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Couple reports attempted 'grandparent scam'

LAWRENCEVILLE — An elderly Lawrenceville couple was recently targeted in what officials say is a tried-and-true scam aimed at the older public.

The couple, who asked not to be identified, received a call Wednesday from their “grandson,” claiming he had been in a car accident and was in jail — in the Dominican Republic.

He needed $4,000 to post bond, and begged them to “not tell his daddy.”

It all seemed suspicious to the husband, who was home alone at the time, especially one detail about his real 17-year-old grandson.

“(The caller) said he was driving, and that instantaneously aroused suspicion on my part, because (his grandson) does not have a driver’s license,” he said.

The man had enough wherewithal to pretend to be considering it, telling the scam artist to call back in an hour or so when his wife got home. During that time, the couple contacted and actually spoke with their grandson, at home with his father.

The scam artist had the gumption to call back, but hung up once the couple began questioning his situation more specifically.

“They think older people may have money to do that, and that most older people are suckers about their grandchildren,” the elderly woman said. “I know we are.”

Better Business Bureau spokeswoman Dottie Callina said the scam is a common one that her organization has dubbed the “grandparent scam.”

Often using information gathered from social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter and MySpace, criminals can track down family connections. Though they didn’t in this case, they often find people who actually are out of country and can’t be reached quickly, then pinpoint relatives to victimize, Callina said.

“This is simply a scare tactic that works well on our senior citizens who fear the worst for their loved ones,” Callina said.

“They scare the person so badly that they wind up giving out personal and financial information to the scammer,” she added.

Gwinnett County police spokesman Cpl. Jake Smith said the department’s white collar unit was not familiar with the scam having ever been reported in the county.

The Better Business Bureau and Federal Trade Commission, however, are familiar with the popular criminal trend, and offered advice for potential targets:

• To make sure it’s not really a loved one in trouble, call a number you know to be genuine, and check the story out with other friends or relatives.

• Ask the caller some questions that a stranger couldn’t possibly answer correctly.

• Resist the pressure to act immediately before you’ve had time to check the story out.