Grandparents, beware of scammers
Illinois Attorney General spokeswoman Maura Possley (right) says that the attorney general's office has seen grandparents scams for years. “The scam artists know that the grandparent is going to do just about anything for their grandchildren,” she said. |
Updated: January 21, 2013 3:23PM
A Franklin Park senior citizen received a phone call recently from a man who claimed to be her grandson.
He said he was in Mexico City, where he’d been drinking, gotten into a car crash and damaged his rental car and the other one.
“The voice was almost exactly,” the senior said. “I accounted for the five percent difference by the fact he was in pain and scared to death and in police custody.”
The “grandson” handed the phone over to a man who claimed to be an attorney with the U.S. Embassy. Over six days, that man conned the senior out of $16,200, she said.
Known as the Grandparent Scam, this con involves a frantic call from someone claiming to be an attorney, paralegal or police officer saying a grandchild is in trouble and requesting the grandparent immediately wire a large sum of money. It’s a common enough scam to have landed on a list of fraud alerts issued by the Illinois Attorney General’s office for 2012.
This one ran true to form. According to police reports, the “attorney” said that the grandson needed $1,900 for bail. The senior wired it. He called back later and said the grandson needed another $1,870 for damages. The senior wired it.
Between then and Dec. 5, the “attorney” called several more times, most times with a request for more money. Once it was for an injury claim by the person in the other car, another time for court costs and again for additional fines and fees.
“A scammer will continue to scam as long as the money is there,” said Michael Konwinski, commander of criminal investigations for the Franklin Park Police. “I imagine the scammer is thinking I just got that kind of money, why not try again?”
The senior in Franklin Park balked when the money requests were too high. Once the “attorney” called and said a person injured in the other car wanted $200,000 and said he would negotiate to lower that. He called back the same day to say he’d gotten it down to $47,000. The senior refused.
“I said that’s out of the question,” the senior said. “We don’t have that kind of money.”
The senior, however, regularly wired sums of close to $2,000.
“It was so cleverly done,” the senior said. “He kept referring to the court. Each morning he had to go to court for the cases he was assigned to. The information to back up these charges was always so credible.”
“Anybody can be scammed,” Konwinski said. “Whether the most intelligent or least intelligent. (A con artist) engenders this fear in the person that a family member is in trouble and I have to help.”
The senior agrees. “They play on your love. They really are psychologists.”
On Dec. 5, the “attorney” called and said the grandson was on a plane back to the U.S. and should be back that night. It was then the senior called her son, the grandson’s father.
“I said to myself, ‘This is the fourth time (the grandson) was supposed to come home,’ ” the senior said. “I’m going to tell my son that if (the grandson) doesn’t come home at least we can fight it together. As soon as I told him he said, mom, you’ve been scammed. He’s been around here all week.”
Maura Possley, spokeswoman for the Illinois Attorney General, said she knows of cases where victims have been scammed out of larger amounts.
“We’ve seen this scam as a consistent problem for several years,” Possley said. “The scam artists know that the grandparent is going to do just about anything for their grandchildren.”
There can be warning signs, Possley said. Those include if you don’t know the person, if they request personal information or promise a big reward or if you have to pay something up front.
“It’s a situation where it’s difficult to get the money back once its been wired,” Possley said.
Konwinski urges Franklin Park residents to call police.
“If anybody gets a suspicious email or a phone call about any family member or friend who is locked up in foreign jail, please call us,” Konwinski said. “A police officer will come to the house and evaluate the validity of that claim.”
Hindsight, however, is easy.
“(During the scam) they were all so credible,” the senior said. “After it’s all over, you look back and can see this all this stuff. I feel so much like a dummy for letting myself be scammed like this.”