HARTSELLE, Ala. (WHNT) - You get a call from someone who claims to be your grandchild. The caller says there’s an emergency, perhaps an automobile accident and asks you to send money so they can get out of jail. Beware: There’s a good chance this is a scammer trying to steal your money!
This exact scenario happened to Loy & Faye Greenhill of Hartselle. The couple lost more than $3,000 after an imposter claiming to be their grandson Rodney called the house.
They used a Western Union at Kroger on Highway 31 in Hartselle to wire two different cash deposits. The idea was to get Rodney out of jail. Little did they know his emotional plea from Florida was a hoax.
“I feel very embarrassed that I didn’t catch on to it,” said Faye Greenhill. “I felt like anybody ought to realize when someone is doing something like that, but you don’t.”
That’s because there is an emotional element to this deception.
“It’s very sophisticated, it really is, these people do their homework they do their research, and they know just what heartstrings to tug,” said Sgt. Terry Kelly with the Morgan County Sheriff’s Department.
Sgt. Kelly says sometimes these imposters contact people randomly. They are also known to use marketing lists, telephone listings, and information from social networking sites.
This crime is difficult for local law enforcement since the culprits are usually overseas. In one Morgan County case, unrelated to the Greenhills’, investigators were able to trace an 888 area code number back to California and then found that number actually routed you to a phone in Quebec, Canada. It apparently was routed from the Canadian number to another location.
Investigators were also able to obtain records which indicated that during a recent eight-day period, more than 200 calls were made from the 888 number to Alabama alone.
So how do these scammers know the names of your friends or relatives? In some cases, they don’t.
For instance, the scammer may say “Hi Grandma,” hoping that you actually have a grandson. If you ask, “David, is that you?” the scammer will say “Yes!” Often, these crooks will call in the middle of the night.
Michele Mason, President of the Better Business Bureau of North Alabama sees that trend all too often. She says her office has been inundated with calls.
“These perpetrators are counting on you being in a fog, so you are not really thinking clearly that you need to check this out,” said Mason. “Instead, you just act quickly.”
The Federal Trade Commission said 10,000 unsuspecting grandparents fall victim to this scam every single year. They estimate the losses at $100 million.
How do you avoid this happening to you or your family? The FTC says verify the emergency.
If someone calls or sends a message claiming to be a family member or a friend desperate for money:
•Resist the urge to act immediately, no matter how dramatic the story is
•Verify the person’s identity by asking questions that a stranger couldn’t possibly answer
•Call a phone number for your family member or friend that you know to be genuine
•Check the story out with someone else in your family or circle of friends, even if you’ve been told to keep it a secret
•Don’t wire money — or send a check or money order by overnight delivery or courier
•Report possible fraud at ftc.gov/complaint