Monday, May 27, 2013


5/8/13 Chatterbox
Betty Kaiser

Honestly, it’s always something! Scamming is rampant. So if you have a telephone, own a computer, or have a mailbox…beware. There are charity scams, newspaper ad scams, lottery/ sweepstakes scams, Internet romance scams, fake loan scams, elder abuse scams and more.

Now there’s the “relative in need scam.” A family member is supposedly in trouble and the scammers target grandparents to get them to send money and rescue their grandkids. This year it reared its ugly head right here in River City (i.e. Cottage Grove). In fact, two of my friends have been on the receiving end of this telephone fraud. One took the bait and the other didn’t. So listen up and be aware.

The so-called grandparent scam is a form of telephone fraud. The scammer phones a grandparent and pretends to be a grandchild in distress. A request is made for funds to be wired to a specific location. The situation is desperate. Urgency is stressed. Phone calls are exchanged. Time is of the essence.

No one seems to know how the targets are chosen. Speculation runs the gamut—lost or stolen cell phones; calling random numbers until an elderly person answers; or the use of social media. An article in CBS 2’s New York edition blatantly said, “If you use social media to stay in touch with your grandchildren, beware—crooks could be watching you watch them.” Both of my friends keep up with their grandchildren on Facebook.

One friend’s scammer call began with a young man saying, “Grandma?” “Yes,” she answered. “I’m in prison. I need money to get out of jail,” he said. His grandmother interrupted, “Before you go any farther I have one question. I need to know your birthday.” He hung up. Later, the scammer called back. She replied: “I’m somebody’s grandma but I’m not yours!” End of conversation.

Things played out differently for my friend Pat who received a phone call one morning from an unrecognizable number. A voice said, “This is your grandson. I’m in Niagara Falls.” “Glen?” Pat said, “Yes,” he answered, “I’m in jail in Canada but don’t let the family know. I was at a wedding in New York and driving a rental car. There was a minor collision. I only had one glass of champagne but had taken some cold medicine. Would you call my lawyer?”

Well, Grandma Pat was shocked and wanted to help. Glen lived in Calif. and usually didn’t drink but it sure sounded like him. She told her husband Ralph the situation and they called the lawyer’s number. It was a wrong number. No lawyer there. Hmm.

Later, while Pat was in town, Ralph got a call. Glen said he had given them the wrong number. Sure enough, Ralph called the new number and a so-called lawyer answered. He told grandpa that the charges were Reckless Driving and a DUI. He would need $980 to get the reckless charge taken care of. It had to be paid in cash and sent via a Moneygram from WalMart. And so they did.

Later, after lunch, another call came. The money had arrived but this time the lawyer needed $963 wired to Toronto, Canada, to take care of the DUI in court. The grandparents went back to their local bank to withdraw the funds but this time they shared with the teller what they were doing with the money. That was a smart move.

“Are you sure this isn’t a scam?” she asked. “No, I’m sure it’s Glen,” Pat said. By this time, others in the bank had chimed in with their own scam experiences. Then the teller gave some good advice: “Well, I can’t refuse to give you the money but I think you need to contact your family before you do anything else.”

The couple went home and called their daughter, their grandson’s mother. “Do you know where Glen is?” they asked. “He’s at work,” mom said. “Are you sure?” they asked. “Yes, I’m sure,” she responded. “Why are you asking?” And then they told her the story.

By this time, the scammer lawyer wannabe was getting worried. He called again looking for his money. Ralph answered the phone and said, “We didn’t send more money because this is a scam.” No,” the scammer said, “ it’s for your son Glen.” “I don’t have a son,” said Ralph. Oops! “Oh, this is a scam and I’ll have to look into it,” the scammer said. Click.

Since this experience, these grandparents have been sharing their story so that others won’t get cheated out of their money. Pat reported it to the police who told her to call the Sheriff’s office who sent paperwork. Finally, she called the Oregon Attorney General’s office. They told her to call the Canadian Attorney General’s office where they had heard of the scam. Since then their story has been shared at gatherings and on Facebook and they’ve been shocked at how many others have been scammed.

We need cool heads in these situations. Here’s some basic information to remember if the caller is unknown and money is involved:

Caller ID is a useful invention. If the number looks strange, don’t answer. Let the machine take the message and then decide

Unsolicited calls: Be skeptical. Be rude. Hang up.

Trust your gut; ask questions and always double check information from strangers.

Never wire money to someone you don’t know. It can’t be refunded.

Be wary. If you didn’t enter the contest or lottery you can’t win!

Remember this is a red flag: “Don’t tell my family or I’ll get in trouble.”

Solicit advice from a family member, a trusted friend or attorney.

FYI: On a happier note: Sunday is Mother’s Day. Enjoy your day!

Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart.