Troubleshooter: Grandparent scam

March 31, 2010 4:38:23 PM PDT
When a grandmother got a call recently from a man claiming to be a police officer, she was worried sick. The man said the woman's 17-year-old granddaughter was in jail in Canada. They even put her on the phone.

"She was crying and said 'Granny please, please don't call mom and dad, I don't want to hurt them. Hurting you is worse, but I don't want to hurt them too,'" said the woman who asked not to be identified.

The woman said she didn't know why her granddaughter would be in Canada, but then she remembered she was planning a spring break trip. Flustered, she didn't try to confirm the story.

"I was worried to death because she gave me so many minutes to get it to her," recalled the woman.

She headed straight to the bank and withdrew more than $2,500 for the alleged bond. Then, she followed the instructions on where to wire it.

"I love my grandchildren so much. I wanted her home with me," said the woman.

But then came another frantic phone call. The girl needed another $2,500 for an attorney. She wired the cash and was told her granddaughter was on a flight to Raleigh Durham Airport and she would be home soon. She waited and waited.

"Come in here and cried sitting in the chair waiting for daylight to come," she recalled.

At daylight, she didn't hear from her granddaughter, so she finally went to her son's home to let him know his daughter was in big trouble.

"They said no she's been in school the whole week and she worked last night till 9:00," said the woman.

That's when she realized she'd been taken and that the girl on the phone wasn't really her granddaughter at all. And while she admits there were red flags, she says she ignored them all for the love of her granddaughter.

"You have to be a grandmother and a mother before you would know to say I wouldn't be that dumb. If you thought for a minute your child was in danger all you would think in your head is to get her home and that was me," she said.

And she's not alone. This scam is hitting grandparents all over the county.

Just last year, the Canadian Anti-fraud Centre got more than 1,100 reports from emergency scam victims in the U.S. who were taken for millions of dollars. And what's shocking about that number is that Canadian police say only about 5 percent of these cases are even reported because of embarrassment.

If you get a call like this, experts say the biggest red flag is if you're asked to wire money, especially out of the country. It's nearly impossible to track and catch the scammers.

So how do scammer's get this information? Sometimes it's through social networking sites.

Authorities say be careful about posting too much information on websites like Facebook or MySpace. You need to keep your information private and don't post too many details.

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