written by Barbara Parrott McGinity, LMSW
From time to time, I recycle columns on different scams. This particular one was featured in 2009, but 4 years later it is still a problem and it is ongoing. Be aware that individuals trying to trick you with this scam are playing on your emotions. One emotion is your grandchild needs you, the other one is your instinct to help someone you love.
This story below is true. It happened to the mother of a high school friend. Here is her story but the names have been changed to protect her identity.
Mrs. Smith knows that one of her grandsons likes to travel around the country to different music festivals, but she never knows when or where he has gone. One day, she got a phone call and the conversation went something like this:
Scam artist: “Grandma, this is your favorite grandson”
Mrs. Smith: “John”
Scam artist: “Yes, John, and I have gotten into some trouble. I was in Toronto at a music festival when I had an accident with the rental car. I had had a couple of drinks with my friends (Mrs. Smith thought that did not sound like John, but continued to listen) and the police arrested me for DWI. Grandma, I need some money to get out of jail.”
Mrs. Smith: “Why don’t you call your parents.”
Scam artist: “Oh Grandma, I can’t do that, I am so embarrassed, please help me. The judge says that if I pay for the damages to the car he will release me. You need to go to the Wal-Mart and wire $4,000 to them so I can get out and fly home. If you do it today, I can be home tonight. You have to use the Wal-Mart because they have Wal-Marts here where they can receive the money.”
Mrs. Smith: “John you don’t sound like yourself.”
Scam Artist: “I know Grandma but I am scared.”
This is a very abbreviated version of the conversation, but you get the point, loving grandparent is asked to help distressed grandchild.
Mrs. Smith went to her bank, withdrew $4,000 and wired the money to Canada via Wal-Mart. Then she sat and worried, hoping everything went ok and he got on the plane for home. When she thought the plane had arrived, she called John’s cell phone. When John answered and told her he was at school and at his job, she wondered how he did that so fast. John then told her he had never been out of the country, and she realized she had been scammed.
How does this happen? The Internet is a great tool and is beneficial to not only us but to scam artists as well. We use entities such as Facebook to connect with friends and family and share information about our lives. We do genealogy research and put out information to share in hopes of connecting with the past. But scam artists mine these websites for nuggets of information they use to trick us.
Lets review the red flags. First, your grandchild does not sound like themselves, but there is an excuse for that..cold..strep throat, etc. Second, you are asked to wire money out of the country or you need to get a Green Dot card or scratch off card and call them back with the code. Lastly, you need to keep this a secret between the two of you. When you hear that hang up and call your children or your grandchild. Taking a few minutes to verify will save you thousands of dollars and alot of heartache. And as always, feel free to call me at 713-341-6184 and we can figure it out together.