Scammers use variety of tricks for sympathy ploys


Scammers use variety of tricks for sympathy ploys

Tips for avoiding the ‘grandma’ and other scams

Ask a question that only your real family members would know how to answer.

Call family members who can confirm the grandchild’s whereabouts.

If the caller asks, “Do you know who this is?” Don’t guess. Make them identify themselves.

If someone urges you to keep the transaction a secret, don’t do it.

Don’t give in to high-pressure tactics, such as tears or immediate deadlines.

Don’t send money via money orders or wire transfers, especially to another country, unless you’re certain about the circumstances.

Unless you’re certain the organization is reputable and you initiated the call yourself, do not give your credit card number over the phone. When in doubt, hang up the phone. If something seems fishy, it probably is.

Report suspicious calls. If you suspect fraud, call (800) 282-0515 or visit

Sources: Ohio Attorney General’s office, Better Business Bureau, Oakwood Police

It’s a tempting tale for a grandmother to believe — a crying grandchild on the phone claiming to be in legal trouble in Canada, in desperate need of bail money and terrified to call his parents.

The problem is, police say, it’s not really her grandchild, and if she sends the money, she’ll never see it again.

“And you’re not talking about $50 here. You’re talking about thousands and thousands of dollars,” said Oakwood police detective Alan Hill.

Telephone scammers conned two Oakwood residents out of more than $13,000 in recent weeks, using a version of the “grandma scam” that consumer groups say has burned thousands of people across the country in recent years.

Grandma? It’s me.

The Ohio Attorney General’s office says the scams can be as simple as someone calling an older adult and saying, “Grandma, it’s me,” and hoping the person will supply a name that they can latch onto. Others are more detailed, using family information gleaned from websites or obituaries to convince the victim that the call is legitimate.

The “please don’t tell my parents” plea often prevents a victim from making the phone call that would quash the scam. And, as in one of the Oakwood cases, scammers sometimes work in teams, with the “grandson” telling the victim to call police at a certain number to confirm the bail amount, making it seem more believable. Of course, the “police officer” answering that number is actually a person in on the scam.

Too good to be true

Sheri Sword of the Dayton Better Business Bureau said these scams involving wire transfers are becoming more and more common, citing a Dayton woman who got a similar call a few months ago but got suspicious and foiled the scam. And Sword said these scams likely are underreported, because many victims are too embarrassed to admit they got taken.

Sword said given the poor job market, the BBB is also seeing scams where people are offered jobs requiring them to wire money for an application or other fee.

“(Scammers) are taking advantage of the weak economy, and people who are desperate for a job will jump at it,” Sword said. “But as always, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

Oakwood police Capt. Randy Baldridge said the scammers play to the victim’s passions. He said in one case months ago, a scammer learned that a resident was a Right to Life activist and called claiming she would have to get an abortion unless the woman sent money, which she did.

Foreign transfers hard to trace

Many of the cases involve money being sent via Western Union, and spokeswoman Kristin Kelly said the company has “a pretty comprehensive anti-fraud program,” citing training of agents, ID requirements, transaction tracking numbers and more.

In the Oakwood cases, the money was wired to Haiti. Baldridge said local police have “very little way to track” wire transfers out of the country, or to work with foreign police, and the FBI won’t deal with dollar amounts this small.

Kelly acknowledged that international transfers make enforcement more difficult, but not impossible.

“We should have information on who picked up the money, and a copy of the driver’s license,” she said. “And if a certain person in Haiti is receiving a lot of transfers, we can block them.”

But that doesn’t help the two Oakwood women, who found out too late that their relatives were safe at home ... while their money was not.

“Some of the people falling for this are highly educated people, but feel they really have to help and don’t recognize the scam,” Baldridge said.

Contact this reporter at (937) 225-2278 or

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