Hines Sight / Preying on the elderly is despicable
Published 12:45 pm, Thursday, December 9, 2010
My late father was a proud and honorable man. He served his country during World War II, and was among those involved in the invasion of Normandy, landing on Omaha Beach with his anti-aircraft artillery division. He was a successful businessman running a family-owned company, which manufactured deadbolt locks and a patented key system. He excelled at sports, and had a green thumb, displayed in his ability to grow hearty tomato plants from seed. He even skipped a grade when he was a youngster because he was that smart.
And he was a trusting soul, so much so, my mother reminds me, that "he always fell for things," she says. He bought "miracle" products from television ads and those advertised in catalogues. When we cleaned out his dresser after his death, we found scores of items he had purchased -- too silly to mention here. Long before his mind was altered by the strokes he suffered later in life, my mother was so aware of his nature that she warned him when she would be out for the day that he was not to open the door to strangers or give out any personal information to anyone over the phone. One time, she recalls, when he picked up a phone call, she overheard the conversation (in which he started to answer personal questions), she yelled to him from the family room to "hang up the phone! It's a scam!"
All of this was brought to mind for me this week when I read about the latest victim of the so-called "grandparent scam." There is no doubt in my mind that my father would have been counted among those being scammed.
There are lots of scams out there that prey on innocent people. But nothing is more despicable than those that target the elderly.
The "grandparent scam" has been around for a couple of years. I did a Google search and found dozens of stories, going back two years, about elderly people getting these phone calls. The scammers randomly call numbers until they find the voice of an elderly person; they pose as the senior's grandson, who says he needs money to be bailed out of jail because of a car accident in which he was involved or some other made-up situation. The caller puts his "lawyer" on the phone and the grandparent is given instructions on how to transfer the thousands of dollars being requested. One elderly couple in Wisconsin handed over $19,000 to the scammers.
In this week's incident, an 88-year-old Fairfielder unfortunately fell to the scam and withdrew and sent $3,018 to the "lawyer," whose name allegedly was Martin Lopez. Although the "grandson" was supposedly in Canada, the money was to be sent through Western Union to Spain. The woman told police that she fell for it because the young man on the phone sounded like her grandson.
In another similar incident, a woman from Westport called the Fairfield Citizen/Westport News office the other day to say that she received one of these calls, but she was familiar with the scam because of the alerts issued about it and was smart enough not to follow through on their request. She was one of the lucky ones.
Law-enforcement officials and the Better Business Bureau remind seniors that being asked for money over the phone should immediately send up a red flag. They advise seniors not to disclose any information before confirming that the "grandchild" is indeed theirs. According to the BBB website, if a caller says, "It's me, grandma!" don't respond with a name but instead let the caller explain who he or she is. Seniors should ask a simple question that only the grandchild would know.
Fairfield Police Sgt. Suzanne Lussier this week suggested the senior ask something simple like, "Where do you live? See if they know anything at all."
Any elderly resident who receives one of these calls -- whether they fell victim or not -- should notify the Police Department and the state attorney general's office. More information about the scam can be obtained by visiting www.bbb.org.
And it would be wise for family members to continue to reinforce in their elderly relatives that they should keep their personal business private and when asked for any kind of sensitive information, simply hang up.