Two 'grandma' scam plots foiled on same day
Published 3:19 pm, Thursday, May 6, 2010
A few days after Fairfield police were featured on a nationally broadcast "Dateline NBC" segment warning about the pervasive dangers of scams, two local residents on Wednesday nearly fell victim to the so-called "grandma" scam.
The money transfers to the fictitious grandsons -- who both claimed to need emergency financial help -- never went through, thanks to vigilant Western Union employees.
One of the Western Union workers told the concerned grandparent that the transfer request sounded like a scam, while the other said transfers had been frozen in the wake of the recent terrorism scare.
"I applaud these employees," police Sgt. James Perez said Thursday. "They are training their tellers. It means a lot to us."
In the first incident, reported about 5:45 p.m. Wednesday, a Jennings Road resident got a call from a man who claimed to be with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, telling her that her grandson had been arrested in Canada. He said she shouldn't tell anyone else and then another male, pretending to be the woman's grandson, got on the line. When the woman said it didn't sound like her grandson, the caller said he was suffering from a cold and then asked for a transfer of $2,368. The woman said she called the man back several times, and each time he answered the phone, "Royal Canadian Mounted Police."
The woman went to a bank branch at a local Stop & Shop to withdraw the requested money, and then went to the store's service counter to use Western Union to wire the money to Canada. She told police that she was told the transfer could not be made at the time because accounts were frozen after the failed car-bombing in Times Square planned last Saturday by Faisal Shahzad of Bridgeport.
When she got home, the woman called her grandson at his usual number, and he assured her that he was at college in Maine and not in jail in Canada.
The second incident was reported only 25 minutes later.
A Benedict Avenue man got a call earlier in the day, this time from a man claiming to be a lawyer in Canada. He was told that his grandson had been in accident and was charged with DUI. The Fairfield man was told his grandson needed $6,250 to settle the charges. A second man, posing as the man's grandson, then got on the phone, and the intended victim said it did sound like his grandson. The "lawyer" told the Fairfield man not to go to a bank to arrange for the money transfer, but to go to a Wal-Mart and use Western Union instead.
"When he attempted to wire the money, the employee informed him that what he was doing sounded like a scam," Perez said, and the man decided to contact his grandson at the usual number. The man's grandson assured the him that he was safe at home in Massachusetts.
The scammers, Perez said, are now pretending to be members of law-enforcement agencies or lawyers. "It's evolving," he said of the widely attempted scam, adding that the scammers also generally tell the elderly scam targets not to tell the grandchild's parents about the predicament.
"Do the exact opposite," Perez advised. "Children and grandchildren need to talk to their grandparents and keep them involved in their lives."