When Elizabeth Martin received a phone call from her distressed granddaughter, she did what any grandmother would do – she responded with love, assurance and cash.
What she didn’t know was that she and her husband Vernon were the victims of a widely-used scam, the grandparent/emergency scam, which has swept across North America. Martin is lucky, she was taken for close to $1,000, others have been fleeced for a lot more than that.
The caller, supposedly her granddaughter, called to say she was in Montreal at a wedding and after an altercation on the street defending herself she was accused by witnesses as being the aggressor. She said she was in jail and the tears flowed convincing Nana and Pop of the dire circumstances.
“I would swear it was her voice,” said Martin, “it was so like her.”
Martin said the caller used their pet names, Nana and Pop. “That’s what all our grandchildren call us.”
The “granddaughter” begged them not to tell her parents and like most loving grandparents, they agreed.
The “lawyer” called and started out asking for $500 which would get the granddaughter out of jail and prevent a criminal record. Elizabeth and Vernon raced to get the money sent out by Western Union but it was Remembrance Day and the local outlet was closed, as was the Money Mart in Langford. The “lawyer” kept calling asking when they would send the money to the address he provided in Montreal. Finally they could send the money, which was by now up to $990. The money was supposed to be for a flight home.
After sending the money they waited until they could call the parents who said their granddaughter was at home in bed and had been all weekend. Then they knew the whole thing was an elaborate scam and they’d been had.
“We felt like stupid old people,” said Elizabeth, “but our granddaughter said, ‘they’re smart.’”
This particular scam has resurfaced after laying still for about a year. It was being used on a number of older folks in Sidney. The Martins do not use computers so it is unlikely information was obtained from them but with the new technology like Facebook, Twitter and others, it is easier for scammers to get information. Typically the call goes something like this:
Con-artist: Hi, Grandma/Grandpa Victim: Hi. Con-artist: Do you know who this is? Victim: John?
Recently scammers have also been using compromised contact lists from hijacked email accounts and potential victims are sent “urgent” requests for money from a friend or relative with whom they have a correspondence. The friend or relative is unaware that their account has been used to send out these requests for money. They almost always use Western Union as there are outlets in most cities in the world.
So, if you get a call from someone claiming to be a relative in distress, ask key questions only your relative would know and make phone calls before you send any money. The scammers rely on the soft hearts and big wallets of grandparents.
“It’s not our rent or grocery money,” said Elizabeth in reference to the money they lost, “but others might run around trying to find it.” Lesson learned.