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Frank Gray

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Ask a few questions to frustrate phone scam

A Whitley County resident sent me an email last week with an increasingly common complaint.

Her parents had been the victim of what is known as the grandma scam.

I spoke to the victim, an elderly man who was angry and willing to talk but didn’t want his name used.

He has a grandson in the military stationed in Germany. A man claiming to be his grandson called and said he had won a trip to Mexico, and while there police stopped him in his rental car and found some marijuana. Now he was in jail and needed money for bail. But please don’t tell his dad, he said. He’s really anti-drug.

It sounds like an absurd pitch. How many soldiers in Germany win trips to Mexico?

But then, who would know that he had a grandson in the military in Germany?

The grandfather fell for it. He went to the local Kroger store and wired off $1,250 by Western Union.

It was only when his “grandson” called back and asked for more money that the man became suspicious. He asked what his two middle names were. The caller got angry and hung up.

It was a scam, the man realized. His grandson wasn’t in Mexico. He was at work in Germany.

The man reported the incident to the Indiana State Police, but his money was long gone.

But the caller sounded just like his grandson, the man said.

I asked him the last time he had spoken to his grandson.

Christmas, he said.

So he only speaks to his grandson every few months. He’s probably not familiar enough with his grandson’s voice to recognize it, I told him.

He learned a lesson the hard way, and he’s not alone. He said the state trooper he spoke to told him that a widow in Whitley County had been taken for $90,000 in a scam.

I spoke to Sgt. Ron Galaviz with the Indiana State Police. How many people are falling for this grandma scam? He didn’t know.

It is hard to tell. Victims – the ones who realize they’ve been scammed – who bother to report it might call the local police, or the sheriff, or the state police. No one adds up all the numbers from all of the dozens of departments in the region.

It is happening all over. The Steuben County sheriff’s department just last week put out a notice that people in that county were targets of the grandma scam.

But how do the scammers get all the information they have? How would a scammer know this man had a grandson in the military in Germany?

Facebook, Galaviz said without hesitation. “People put everything on there, their whole family tree,” and they don’t use security settings to keep the world from seeing it.

It’s infuriating to hear about elderly people getting ripped off for thousands of dollars by the scammers, and it’s equally infuriating to know that catching the crooks is all but impossible.

The best people can do, Galaviz said, is do some homework if your grandson calls claiming to be in jail in Canada or Mexico or somewhere else. Try calling your grandson. He’ll probably answer the phone.

Or maybe grandchildren should talk with their grandparents and warn them about the scam themselves.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at fgray@jg.net. You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.

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