Phone scam targets seniors

GLENDALE — Resident Dolores Keeler got a call two weeks ago from a man who claimed to be her grandson and said he had been arrested after a car accident in Quebec, Canada, and needed $4,200 wired to him to help pay for the car’s damage.

Keeler, who has lived in Glendale for 35 years, was concerned about the man’s welfare, whom she confused for her grandson, so she promised that she wouldn’t tell his mother about the accident.

But she told him she didn’t have that much money to help him out and offered to send him some money, but not thousands of dollars.

“Boy, you really are in some trouble,” Keeler said during the call, which was recorded on her answering machine.

The man, who called from a private number, told her that he was going to have to get help from his mother, and she agreed that was the best option.

He ended the conversation, but the call still lingered with Keeler, who was worried about not being able to help her grandson, her daughter, Mimi Leach, said. Her daughters later found out through research on the Internet that their mother had been the victim of a con artist’s scam and reported it to the Glendale Police Department, Leach said.

“I think it’s horrible that someone would try that,” she said. “He was trying to elicit her sympathy.”

The Federal Trade Commission has known about the scam for several years, but officials have seen it spike in the past nine months, said Nicole Vincent, the commission’s consumer education spokeswoman.

“We have gotten complaints,” she said. “It seems to be making its way around again.”

The scam varies with each caller, who almost always claims to be a relative who was arrested in Quebec in a car accident, must cross the border and needs money wired to him through a commercial money transfer company, Vincent said.

During the call to Keeler, the man said that after he got in the accident he was arrested for reckless driving and police released him from jail, but he needed to pay the car’s damage in order for charges to be dropped.

“Well, my lawyer says they will drop the charges, and I won’t have a criminal record,” the man said in the call. “But they say I have to cover the damages to the rental car. I’ve been on the phone to my bank, and I have the money in my savings account, but because it is an international wire transfer, it’s going to take three to five business days to get the money to me. And my flight kinda leaves tomorrow, so I was hoping you could wire me the money. I’ll pay you back with interest when I get home.”

Con artists specifically target seniors in their 70s, 80s and 90s in effort to pull at grandparents’ heartstrings and bilk them out of money, Vincent said.

The con artists sometimes know relatives’ names or trick the seniors into giving up a grandchild’s name, she said.

Canadian officials have also reported the scam to the commission and established a group called “Phone Busters” to help grandparents receiving the fake calls, Vincent said.

Vincent advised seniors to never wire money because they will likely not get it back.

The con artists request that the money be wired because the method is not traceable, she said.

The people conducting the scam “are taking advantage of elders,” Glendale Officer John Darby said.

“What they are preying on is the elder not remembering their relative,” he said.

Police detectives told Keeler and Leach that the call would be hard to trace and didn’t know if they would be able to crack the case, her daughter said.

With Keeler’s case being deemed unsolvable, her daughter said she is dedicated to warning Glendale seniors about the scam.

“The best thing we could do is let other people know about it,” Leach said.

TRANSCRIPT OF THE 'GRANDPARENT SCAM' CALL

The Glendale Police Department provided a basic transcript of the “Grandparent Scam” call that was recorded on Dolores Keeler’s answering machine.

Keeler: “Did you say this is David?”

Caller: “Yeah, it’s David. I didn’t think you’d recognize my voice because of this cold I have.”

Keeler: “Well, I’ve never heard you on the phone before. How are you doing?”

Caller: “Oh, pretty well. I’m in Quebec City right now.”

Keeler: “Did you say Quebec?”

Caller: “Yeah, Quebec City.”

Keeler: “How’d you get all the way up there?”

Caller: “I came up last Saturday with my friend, Brian. He was getting married and he didn’t want to come alone, so I said I’d go with him.”

Keeler: “Well, I’m glad you’re having some fun.”

Caller: “Yeah, it was fun. Until Tuesday night.”

Keeler: “Uh-oh. What happened?”

Caller: “I kinda got into some trouble.”

Keeler: “Oh no. I’m sorry to hear that. You don’t have to tell me what it is.”

Caller: “Well — can we keep it between us until I get back? I don’t want my mom to know.”

Keeler: “I won’t tell your mom.”

Caller: “Well, after the wedding, there was this car accident.”

Keeler: “Are you OK?”

Caller: “Yeah, no one was hurt. But the police came, and I kinda failed my sobriety test and got arrested on the spot.”

Keeler: “Oh, no! Gee, I’m sorry to hear that. Are you still in? Did they give you your one call?

Caller: “No, I’m not still in. They gave me a calling card to call out of the country. But I’m being charged with reckless endangerment.”

Keeler: “Boy, you really are in some trouble!”

Caller: “Well, my lawyer says they will drop the charges, and I won’t have a criminal record. But they say I have to cover the damages to the rental car. I’ve been on the phone to my bank, and I have the money in my savings account, but because it is an international wire transfer, it’s going to take three to five business days to get the money to me. And my flight kinda leaves tomorrow, so I was hoping you could wire me the money — I’ll pay you back with interest when I get home.”

Keeler: “I don’t care about the interest part. How much do you need?”

Caller: “$4,200.”

Keeler: “I don’t have that kind of money. I can’t help you with that amount.”

Caller: “Can’t you help me with some of it?”

Keeler: “Not thousands. I don’t work anymore, you know.”

Caller: “I guess I’ll have to call my mom to help me.”

Keeler: “Yes, call your mother. See what she can do for you.”

Caller: (Background sounds and yelling) “Hey Joe! Joe! Stop.”

The call ends.


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