Sep 14 2012

Phone Scams

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This has nothing to do with RVing, but our blog site is a good place to vent. 

We stopped by Don's parent's home yesterday. They said they had just received a phone call from our granddaughter saying she was in an accident and in jail and needed money. We questioned why she would call them and not her mom or dad or us. Their reply was that she said she didn't want anyone to know. Just after we got there, the phone rang and Don's mom insisted she talk to the caller. While she was doing that, Jan got on the cell phone and called our daughter to ask how our granddaughter was and explained the phone call. Our daughter assured us she had just had a text message from our granddaughter and she was at work. I went back into the kitchen to tell my mother-in-law that her great-granddaughter was fine, but she was busy writing down bank account numbers, routing numbers, bank address, etc. being dictated to her by the attorney for the case. We insisted she not write anything more and that all was well, and we got the phone from her. Don questioned the caller and asked for his name and phone number so we could have our attorney contact him. The caller said, "I am an attorney."  Don promptly told him that he wasn't our attorney. Then the caller had our "granddaughter" come to the phone. It was a two minute wait and Don gave me the phone. A girl came on the phone and was crying, telling me she was our granddaughter (using our granddaughter's name) and she was in trouble. At the same time, the "real" granddaughter called our cell phone and let us know she was fine. We gave the phone to Don's mom so she could hear her voice herself. I told the scammer that we were talking to our granddaughter and that she or no one else in on this scam ever call this number again. She hung up immediately. 

I then called the state police and told them about the call. They said it's been going on for years and there's no way to stop it. I told him we had a bank name and address in New York City, an account number and a routing number. He said that didn't matter. Even in cases where people had sent money, it was untraceable, going to another country. 

This could have had a much worse outcome. We arrived in time to prove it was a scam. I'm not sure Don's parents would have wired the money, but they were visibly shaken and upset thinking their great-granddaughter was in any kind of trouble. And Don's mom was being diligent in getting all the information to wire money. And the whole affair was quite convincing. When the fake granddaughter called, she said, "Hi, Grandpa. It's **********. Happy Birthday." He had a birthday less than a month ago. Then she began to tell him the story and that she was in New York. That gave Don's parents pause because they could think of no reason she'd be in New York. The second phone call was a male stating he was an attorney and he had all the information they needed to bail their great-granddaughter out of her problem. When I was on the phone with the fake, I could easily have believed it was our granddaughter if I had not already made the call to verify she had not been in an accident. 

We found other instances on the Internet. These were people that had actually sent money. Their bank's employees caught onto the scam the second time they came in to wire money and stopped them before any more money was sent. These people that were scammed said the callers even used family nicknames. There was no reason to doubt the call wasn't from their grandchild or great-grandchild. 

How do they get so much information. Don's parents aren't on the Internet. They rarely use credit cards. They don't travel. I have found sites where too much information is available, such as address, phone number, astrological sign (pinpointing a general birth date). However, these sites don't list names of great-grandchildren. Could it be something from Facebook? That would take some real searching. Maybe Ancestry.com? I'm guilty of having a family tree online. Again, it seems that it would be really difficult for a scammer to trace someone through that information. But they are getting it through some source. I must say I am becoming more cynical and more paranoid with each passing day. 

So this is a beware. And, by the way, we saw on the Internet that there's another scam going around where the caller says they are from Medicare and checking to see how the Medicare recipient is doing. I'm not sure what kind of information they're requesting, but never ever give any personal information over the phone. These scammers are good at what they do. 

As a society, we are usually trusting. And our society is now so open and there is so much personal information out there, we are all vulnerable.