BANGOR, Maine — A Bangor man in his 70s was bilked out of $7,000 last week by a con artist pretending to be his grandson who called him and said he was in jail in Spain and needed money, police said Monday.
“The victim was instantly worried and listened carefully as the man, who he claimed sounded exactly like his grandson, went into detail [about] how he was at a wedding reception in Spain, drank alcohol and was pulled over,” Bangor police Sgt. Paul Edwards said.
The con artist told the victim that vehicles were damaged during the drunken driving incident and he needed just over $7,000 wired to him quickly from the nearest Western Union outlet, the sergeant said.
“The grandfather reported he was worried sick and wasn’t thinking straight and went to his local bank and wired the money,” Edwards said. “It wasn’t until the victim tried calling back the man in Spain and then locating his grandson with the assistance of his daughter that he realized he was scammed.”
Officer Dennis Townsend called Western Union about the scam and company officials told him that this type of incident happens six to seven times a day in the United States, so much so that it has been dubbed the “Grandparent Scam.”
It’s just another version of an emergency scam that has bilked millions of dollars out of victims nationally, Edwards said.
“We have received similar complaints in the past of this type of scam and this is the second one of this nature that we have responded to” in the past week, the sergeant said.
Most predators escape prosecution, but not all.
Two Canadian men — Michael Angelo Giuffrida, 21, and Nour-El-Dean Mouneimneh, 20, both of Quebec — were indicted by a federal grand jury in June for scamming a Presque Isle grandmother out of $56,000.
“The woman told [U.S. Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement] agents that she had received a phone call from a man who identified himself as a police sergeant in New York who said her grandson had been in an accident and was in trouble in Cincinnati, Ohio, and needed money,” a May 14, 2011, Bangor Daily News article states.
The Presque Isle woman’s grandson left Portland about six years ago for Ohio and the grandmother had no contact information for him, according to the court affidavit.
Education is key to helping potential victims protect themselves and their money, Edwards said. Once the money is sent using untraceable methods such as by Western Union, it is usually gone forever.
“Do some homework first,” the sergeant said. “Call relatives, call the grandson, or his mother. Reach out and avoid this knee-jerk reaction.”
People should reach out even if the caller tells them not to, because keeping victims isolated is a technique used by scam artists, he said.
“Always ask questions of anyone attempting to get you to send money, as most — if not all of those requests — are fraudulent,” Edwards said.
The emergency scams usually involve an urgent plea for money and the use of an untraceable method of transferring funds, such as Western Union or MoneyGram International. Scammers also have hacked into people’s Facebook or email accounts and sent out emergency messages claiming an accident or similar event and the need for funds to be sent immediately.
Russ Van Arsdale, executive director of Northeast CONTACT, a nonprofit consumer organization in Maine, wrote a column about grandparent scams in March 2011 and had a suggested for families.
“Come up with a ‘safe’ word or phrase you and your loved ones can use in case of a real problem,” he wrote.
To help federal officials who investigate this type of crime, Edwards suggested victims record the caller ID number, then simply hang up.
All potential or actual victims should report the crime to their local police. Those who have a caller ID number also can report it to the Federal Trade Commission at 877-382-4357 or visit the agency’s website, FTC.gov.
“Check and recheck before you do anything,” Edwards said.
BDN writer Judy Harrison contributed to this report.