The Investigators

Jan 8, 2013 11:59 PM

New twist on phone scam targets grandparents

TUCSON - The News 4 Tucson Investigators are committed to telling you about the underreported problem of elder abuse. We have more information on a scam you may have heard but you might find hard to believe it actually works.

This one involves a phone scam where a caller claims to be a grandkid in distress and they need money sent immediately

Joanne Sayre got a call like this recently. You are probably confident you would not fall for something like this, but someone in your family might. We also talked with authorities to see why the grandkid in distress phone scam actually works.

"I picked up the phone and there was a young man's voice," says Joanne. "And you can tell he was very distressed and he said, 'Grandma. This is Joe'. And I said, 'Joe? What are you doing?'"

The caller said he was in Mexico City. They knew Joanne's name and her phone number. And Joanne does have a grandson named Joe. They also referred to Joe's best friend by name.

"He starts to sob and he said, 'Grandma. I'm in jail.'"

The so-called Joe said they were pulled over by Mexican authorities. Drugs were found in the car.

"They're telling me I need to pay some bail," recounts Joanne.

Then another man got on the phone claiming to be with the U.S. Embassy. He was making a deal to get Joe out of the country.

"They wanted $1,940 and then it would cost $50 for a processing fee."

Joanne was almost out the door to wire the money.

"It was very frightening and I was really, extremely upset and scared for Joe."

Det. Ericka Stropka with the Tucson Police department, Elder Abuse Unit explains why this scam works.

"A lot of times they'll call and they'll have the name of the grandson or have the name of the friend. And this kind of takes the person, the victim, off guard. And makes them feel comfortable that, ‘gosh this must be my grandson.'"

Fraudsters are getting the information from a combination of social media and online phone books, making it possible to connect the dots in a family tree.

Fortunately Joanne started to have doubts. She called Joe's father and verified her grandson was safe.

Joanne agrees folks in her generation just don't realize how much of their information is out there.

"I really believed they knew an awful lot about me. And I had no idea they knew that. That was very intimidating."

Det. Stropka advises you have a conversation with seniors in your family before they get a call like this. It's also a good idea to search online and see how much of grandpa and grandma's information is available.

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