Grandparent Scam Hits Southern Arizona

September 26, 2008

Tucson Grandmother Sends More than $8,000 to Canadian Scammers

Tucson, AZ – Sept. 26, 2008 – When 74-year-old Alice Clark answered a call at her Tucson home on Sept. 5, she thought she was talking to her grandson.

“Hi grandma,” said the caller. “Do you know who this is?”

Clark responded with the name of her grandson Josh, who lives in Minnesota, and that set the scam in motion.

“Josh” was in a terrible bind. He had gone with a friend to a wedding in Vancouver and on their way back to the hotel, had a car accident. While nobody was injured, the two had been drinking and were hauled off to jail. According to Josh, the judge would not release him until he paid $4,258 in repairs for the rental car. So Clark wired the money from a local MoneyGram store; money that Josh promised to pay back as soon as he got home.

A second call from “Josh” about an hour later delivered more dismaying news. Josh said that one of the people in the other car had now come forward with a neck injury and he had to deposit an additional $3,500 in an “escrow” account to cover any developments with the injury claim. He could not retrieve his passport without doing so, he said. So Clark wired more money.

“I was just so sure it was him,” said Clark, who tapped into her savings account for the $8,000. “He sounded so distressed. He asked me to keep everything confidential because he was embarrassed and didn’t want the family to know what had happened.”

It wasn’t until she didn’t hear back from her grandson that Clark called his home and he surprisingly answered the phone. It was at that moment she knew she had been robbed.

“It was just like somebody threw ice water on me,” she said.

Clark is one of many seniors across the country being targeted by this scam, according to Kim States, BBB spokesperson.

Known as the “grandparent scam” or “grandchild scam,” cons target elderly people who might have trouble recognizing voices over the phone. Because the cons usually claim to be embarrassed and ask to keep the incident a secret, victims neglect to verify the story or get other family members involved.

“Once you send money to Canada, there’s no hope of getting it back,” States says. “A good rule of thumb is to never wire money out of the country unless you initiated contact with that relative or friend and you know for a fact they are where they say they are.”

BBB offers the following tips to protect against this scam:

· Don’t fill in the blanks for the caller: In Clark’s example, the scammer asks a leading question “Hello grandma; do you know who this is?” and he is provided with a name. Ask a lot of questions, and those that have answers only your family should know: “What’s your daughter’s name?” or “How old were you when…?” You’ll learn quickly enough if it’s a con artist, says States.

· Do whatever is necessary to confirm your relative’s whereabouts. Get off the phone and call your grandchild’s home, school or work to verify what you’ve been told.

· Don’t wire money. If a caller asks for your bank account number or urges you to wire money for any reason, it’s likely a scam. Cons prefer wire transfers because they are fast, and funds can be picked up easily and just about anywhere.

If you are a victim of this scam file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at, 877-382-4357 or contact your BBB at (520) 888-5353 in Tucson, or (520) 459-2880 in Cochise County for more information.

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