Residents receive phony call in new ‘Grandparents Scam’
by Robert Joseph Baker | April 23, 2014 10:13 am
Last Updated: April 23, 2014 at 11:46 am
WYBOO – Tuesday began just like any other morning for Kathleen and Thomas Wetherald.
Then, about 11 a.m., the couple received a phone call from their grandson. The young man told the couple that he was in Mexico on vacation, had gotten into some trouble and needed money for bail.
There was just one problem with the scenario.
“We don’t have any grandchildren, because we don’t have any children,” Kathleen Wetherald said.
The couple was likely the target of what law enforcement in other states has come to call the “Grandparents Scam,” in which senior citizens get calls from “grandchildren” in desperate need of money.
Local 8, a CBS affiliate in Knoxville, Tenn., recently spoke to a 31-year-old conman who spent a lot of time on the other end of the phone calling unsuspecting California residents. He told the station that he could make as much as $10,000 in a day from the Grandparents Scam.
Asked how a typical call would go, the conman – who would not let the Tennessee station use his name – said, “You just say, ‘Hey, how are you, hi grandma, hi grandpa … I’m in a little bit of trouble right now.’”
“’If I tell you, just keep it between us, I’m on vacation, but I got into a little accident, and I was arrested for DUI,’” the man continued. “You tell them, ‘Things got out of control, and I need you to send me the money.’”
He said about one in 50 people would fall for the scam. One unfortunate victim was an 81-year-old California woman who wired $18,000 to a North Carolina bank after falling prey to the terrible trick. She thought the money was going to her grandson’s attorney.
“My sister saw that one on the news, she lives in the West Virginia area,” Wetherald said. “People asked her why she didn’t know her own grandchild’s voice, but she said she hadn’t heard from him in several years. This is a dangerous thing that I believe people need to know about.”
Wetherald called her phone company and was told the (760) 705-8888 number that came up on her caller ID during the call was a California-based number.
But that’s little help to law enforcement in the United States trying to investigate the calls. The number belongs to Google Voice, a web-based telecommunications device with more than 3.5 million users that allows users to make free computer-to-phone calls within the United States and Canada.
Its interface is set up like the company’s popular Gmail service. Those without Google Voice accounts who receive calls from another Google Voice user will see the same number that the Wetheralds saw on Tuesday.
Essentially, anyone could be behind the phone number.
“I just think it’s scary,” Wetherald said. “They didn’t know that we didn’t have children or grandchildren, so we weren’t going to fall for it. But we have others around here who do, and I thought that the public needed to be warned.”
According to the National Council on Aging, seniors are robbed of roughly $3 billion annually in financial scams. The Tennessee conman said seniors are the easiest targets.
“We target people over the age of 65, mainly, because they’re more gullible,” he said. “They’re at home. They’re more accessible. Once you get them emotionally involved, then they’ll do anything for you, basically.”
Doug Shadel of AARP said such scams work against common sense because they trigger an immediate emotional reaction.
“We’ve had doctors and lawyers fall for this,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what your educational level is because it triggers something emotional. It causes you to act.”