“Excuse my voice, grandma. I’ve got a really bad cold right now.”
Those were the words Heather Grieve-Hamilton’s 82-year-old mother heard when she picked up the phone earlier this month.
What came after, though, is something that’s happening more frequently. It’s called the “grandparent scam” — though Grieve-Hamilton’s mom didn’t know that at the time.
“She called me absolutely hysterical. And even I believe it based on her reaction, she couldn’t even breathe, she was so upset,” Grieve-Hamilton explains of the call she received from her mom, who had just hung up the phone with someone she thought was her grandson Connor calling from jail.
“He said ‘grandma, something really bad happened. I got in a car accident and I’m OK but I hit another vehicle.’ And he hands the phone to the so-called lawyer, and he said ‘he hit another vehicle with a pregnant woman and she got hurt. Now he’s being held in jail.’”
Something doesn’t seem right
That’s when the scammers preyed on the senior’s vulnerability; what grandmother wouldn’t want to help her grandson?
At that point, the “lawyer” requested $9,000 to use for her 26-year-old grandson’s bail and said he would have to stay in jail until it was paid.
“She’s like, ‘I don’t have that kind of money,’ and she started getting really upset. And he’s like, ‘OK, can you do $4,000 then?’ As she’s telling me this I’m like, that doesn’t make sense.”
That’s when Grieve-Hamilton called her sister, who quickly ran downstairs and discovered that Connor was asleep in bed.
“It’s horrible. I didn’t even know about this scam but my mom is a target for these kinds of things. She was so upset because she would do anything for her grandson. She almost had to go to the hospital, and she’s a tough woman” Grieve-Hamilton adds.
Creating a sense of urgency with a fake scenario
That’s the point of these so-called grandparent scams, explains Calgary police Staff Sgt. Kurt Jacobs, who says it’s not a new scam but one that is becoming more prevalent. Jacobs says there have been 114 scamming incidents reported since January, but says many may go unreported.
The goal is to create urgency and panic to not allow the victims too much time to think, Jacobs explains.
“They’re truly very convincing and manipulative. There are so many different scams going on all the time, but anytime someone phones… and they’re creating some kind of fictitious scenario, it should be a red flag.”
He says they try to make it believable by pretending a loved one is in jail and they need bail money, or they’ve been in an accident and they can’t talk.
“There’s always an urgency to provide money in some fashion. In these particular cases, it was cash, but sometimes they come in the form of an e-transfer, or some kind of gift card, but there’s always an urgency for money.”
Caught in the act
Last week, just a few days after Grieve-Hamilton’s mom almost became a victim, police caught a suspected scammer in the act thanks to a quick-thinking bank teller who recognized that a senior trying to withdraw a large sum of money was likely the target of a scammer.
The police were on hand to arrest the suspect when he went to the victim’s house to collect the money. Nishaan Singh Sandhu, 21, was charged with one count of fraud over $5,000.
“In this particular case, the victim unfortunately already went through $12,000 and provided that to one of the offenders. Then they get confident when things work out for them and sometimes a little too greedy,” Jacobs says, adding the suspect requested even more money and that’s when police officers were on hand to arrest him.
“It would have been nice to see the look on his face.”
Believable but fictitious scenarios
Jacobs says the scams are often believable, especially because the scammers sometimes know personal information about their victims that they mined from social media.
“They use these tidbits of information to gain trust and that makes it more believable to the victim,” he says, adding that anytime there is urgency or the victims are told not to tell anyone are signs it could be a scam.
He says when people get these calls they should ask for a number to call them back or let them know they will be calling the person in question, and he advises people to always check in with another family member before handing money over.
“Another thing to remember is that these individuals prompt you for information. Don’t provide information to these individuals. Take what they have but don’t provide them with more than they have.”
Jacobs says these crimes have a devastating impact on the victims.
“It’s very unfortunate. This is a group of people who are basically taking advantage of the trustworthiness and compassion of other people. And in this case, the elderly,” he says.
“Some of them have saved the money they have for retirement, or they’re trying to make ends meet. And then these sums of money that they lose, they are rarely ever recovered. It’s very difficult to locate them.”
Grieve-Hamilton says it’s not the first time her mother fell for a scam and now she blames herself.
“She doesn’t even want to answer her phone anymore. I just don’t want to see any other senior go through that or lose any more money. It’s heartbreaking.”
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