This is a guest post on Listen UP! Hugh Mackenzie is on vacation and taking a break.
By Sally Barnes
It’s easy to criticize the naivete of old folks who fall for what’s known as “grandparent scam” but it’s harder to admit you almost became a victim yourself.
A recent personal experience showed me just how easily this crime is committed and how it robs seniors of their security and self-confidence and in many cases their savings.
“Grandpa, it’s your grandson calling and I’m in trouble.”
Believe me, those words set your heart racing and attack your common sense.
Anyone with grandkids in their teens or twenties is especially vulnerable to becoming the target of heartless criminals who fleece millions of dollars from an increasing number of seniors in communities across the country.
The vast majority of these crimes goes unreported to authorities, often because victims are embarrassed that they were so easily duped.
Grandparent scam is not new but it’s getting more and more sophisticated and frequent.
It was some years ago that we heard of the first case. It involved a colleague in Toronto. His father had been a career police officer. He himself was a journalist and worked the police and court beat. In other words, he was no innocent when it came to crime.
As a grandfather, however, he melted like butter on a grill. When a phone caller identified himself as his grandson who was in jail in Montreal and needed $5,000 for bail, our friend grabbed a cab to his financial institution and transferred the money as instructed by the kid’s “lawyer.”
He followed the caller’s instructions not to call other family members. It was only the following morning when the “lawyer” called wanting another $ 5,000 that our friend smelled the rat, called the kid’s parents and was told his grandson was alive and well and sitting on the couch watching a football game.
Not much has changed. As recently as this past week, an elderly Belleville resident lost $7,000 in a scam in which a caller posing as a lawyer, said the victim’s son had been in an accident and the money was needed to release his impounded car.
The cash was picked up by a courier at the victim’s house and the rest is history.
Not all cases end this way, however.
As method of payment the criminals often send a legitimate courier to pick up the money and deliver it to a temporary address but in some cases the culprits show up themselves and have been arrested by awaiting police.
An elderly woman was called by someone posing as a police officer who needed a large amount of money to get the woman’s son out of jail. The criminal went to her apartment building to collect the cash and found real police officers waiting for him.
In another local case, two Montreal men ended up in jail and charged with both fraud and impersonating an officer when they showed up at a senior’s home dressed as bail officers to pick up the money they had demanded. Fortunately, the canny grandfather had notified police who set up surveillance and capture.
Our own recent family experience with this sordid activity had my husband and me being led down the garden path and quite embarrassed once it was over and we realized how we were so caught off guard and manipulated by the crafty criminals involved.
I was especially rattled and might well have been gone hook, line and sinker if I had been alone when the call came in.
In late afternoon, the phone rang, it was on speaker, and the conversation went something like this:
Young man (YM): “Grampa, it’s your grandson calling and I’m in trouble.”
Us: “Which one?” (We have more than one.)
Noise on the line….
Us: “Dan, is that you? Where are you?”
Us: “In Belleville? Where?””
YM: “I’m in jail.”
Us: “The one on Pinnacle Street?”
Note: So, at this point we had played right into their hands by stupidly providing the caller with our grandson’s name and other details that established credibility.
When we questioned whether it was really Dan, the young man said he had a cold and was really shaken up by the whole experience.
Us: “What happened? Are you alright? “
YM: “I’ve been in an accident. I rear-ended a woman and she was pregnant and is in the hospital….I was on my cell phone when it happened and they have a witness.”
We were then joined in the call by an alleged lawyer who began explaining how a large amount of money was needed to get our grandson out of jail and to fight the charges. It’s common for victims to tell police they couldn’t bear the thought of their grandkid behind bars.
As our conversation progressed, my husband grew more irritated while I was fumbling for my wallet and anxious to find out where we send the money.
As luck would have it, the bad guys had chosen the wrong victim. My husband served for several years as a justice of the peace and recognized the lies and contradictions in the story.
“This is a scam,” hubby said and the caller hung up. The scammers want no part of someone who calls their bluff and exposes their narrative.
We immediately called the grandson who was being impersonated and the first thing we noticed was how little he sounded like the young man who had tried to scam us.
We also recalled how the young man had referred to his grandfather as “Grampa” while all our grandkids call my husband “Grandad.” But that, too, was lost in the confusion and fear of the moment.
I was reminded how often we have heard scam stories and never imagined it could happen to us.
In one interesting case the criminals targeted a downtown Toronto seniors’ building and were stopped in their tracks. The young pretenders asked to speak with their grandmothers or grandfathers but it was a Jewish home and a respectful Jewish kid would use the familiar Yiddish terms Zayde and Bubbe.
My only regret is that I wish I had been smarter and calmer when the call came in to us and we could have helped to stop these parasites in their tracks by contacting the police.
What else can you call these wretched people who prey on the elderly?
And don’t blame the victims, who love their grandkids, want only to help and protect them and look forward to hearing from them from time to time.
Sally Barnes has enjoyed a distinguished career as a writer, journalist and author. Her work has been recognized in a number of ways, including receiving a Southam Fellowship in Journalism at Massey College at the University of Toronto. A self-confessed political junkie, she has worked in the back-rooms for several Ontario premiers. In addition to a number of other community contributions, Sally Barnes served a term as president of the Ontario Council on the Status of Women. She is a former business colleague of Doppler’s publisher, Hugh Mackenzie, and lives in Kingston, Ontario. You can find her online at sallybarnesauthor.com.
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