Summer Season for Scammers

Steve Propes

Several weeks ago, Long Beach resident Fred got a call on his land line from a young male. “Hi grandpa,” he said. Fred knew most grandparents who don’t keep in constant touch with their out-of-town grandchildren might well take for granted this was the voice of their grandson. “How are you?”

Fred listened as the so-called grandchild told him of a series of misfortunes, having flown to Las Vegas to be in the wedding of his best friend. He was in a car with friends of the groom and they got pulled over and drugs were found in the car. All the occupants were arrested and he was in jail, waiting for court.

Could granddad help get him out? Fred suggested he call his mom or dad, but the grandson answered he wanted to get out before he told them and that he would pay granddad back after he got out. Fred insisted he was going to call the grandson’s mother, at which point, the so-called grandson simply hung up. The first attempt at the granddad scam had failed. But that wasn’t the only one.

Long Beach Detective Greg McMullen is familiar with this scenario. He calls this the “relative in distress” scam. “There are several such scams,” said McMullen. “They change and are cyclical in nature.”

More recently, another call from Fred’s grandson, this time in a voice that was very close to the real teenaged grandson, who lives some distance away and who  is in touch about twice a year, at most. Another best friend, another flight, another wedding. Fred knew from experience he was being scammed, but he decided to go along.

The second so-called grandson told a story of getting into a “fender bender.” Sadly, there was a pregnant woman in the other car and she lost her baby. The grandson had broken his nose and was in jail. Could granddad help out? Granddad asked to speak with the jailer. He wasn’t allowed. Why not tell his parents. Want to wait until I get out, especially because of the broken nose. Fred asked the grandson what he wanted him to do. “My public defender will call you in a few minutes. I need $8,000 for bail and I’ll pay you back when I get out.”

While he waited, Fred decided to call the police dispatch non-emergency number and was told that a fraud had not been committed until he sent money. “Just hang up,” the  dispatcher told Fred, which he did. He waited for the public defender to call and he’s still waiting. Doubtless, the scammers had already turned to more likely victims.

For some reason, this scam always involves a grandson, never a granddaughter, McMullen noted. In the call, the scammers entice the victim to say a grandson’s name, which Fred did the first time out. In many cases, the scammer playing the grandson will also play the attorney. “They read from scripts. These guys are good at getting people to disclose information.”

Scammers get basic identifying information the same way legal vendors get information, they acquire it from a variety of sources. “I can go on any website with your background and in 10 or 15 minutes, through dark web, I can have the entire history of your close family, even their ages,” said McMullen. To enter a contest at a shopping mall, a potential victim will fill out an application. That application is sold to a vendor collecting such information and invariably ends up with scammers. To that end, McMullen avoids all such contests and recommends others do the same.

“The elderly population is especially vulnerable as they tend to keep the same phone number for 30 or more years.” Cell phones are called as these numbers are shared up on these applications.

“Most of these scams originate from overseas, the Ukraine or Canadian provinces,” said McMullen. As a result, “It’s extremely rare to make arrests. There are multiple task forces, but many countries do not have treaties.”

Money is generally sent through prepaid money cards, Green Dot, Vanilla cards and I-Tunes cards. The scammer convinces the victim to buy the card, then share the serial number with the scammer. That’s as good as handing off cash. Done deal.

One day later, Fred got another grandpa call from a clearly older voice. “Hi, grandpa,” he said. Fred hesitated. “Which grandson are you. I have several.” The line went dead, but the scam will live on.

The only effective tool against these scams, according to McMullen, a veteran of the Secret Service, who currently works closely with the FBI, is an informed public. To that end, McMullen makes frequent presentations about scams and scammers to various community organizations. Nobody is exempt from scammer calls. Even the phone tree at the police department gets called. They hang up.


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