The scam is not new, but it’s taken an elderly Omaha woman for one of the largest amounts yet. It involves a con artist pretending to be a relative in trouble outside of the United States.
“I should have known better.” An 88-year-old widow got a call from a young woman claiming to be her granddaughter. "I picked it up and I heard, grandma.” She claimed to be in trouble half a world away. “Begging me not to tell her folks, don't tell my mom or dad, I'm so embarrassed.”
So convincing, the grandmother wire transferred more than $23,785 from her account to one in Peru. “Don't tell anybody what it’s for. Tell them you are renting a home in Peru for the winter.”
Bank employees are often the last line of defense.
At another bank, United Republic Bank, tellers are trained to ask questions if someone, especially an elderly person, comes in and wants to withdraw a large amount of money. “Yes, ask where is it going and what is it for,” says teller Jared Leland.
“The inquiries they make with the elderly, they will try and find what the real reason is just through some questioning that's done,” says United Republic’s Mike Pate.
At Mary's bank, she didn't reveal the real reason and her attorney warns the money is probably gone. “When they get these suspicious calls that their granddaughters or people they love are in jail, before they do anything they have to do everything they can to confirm it’s true,” says James Martin Davis.
In hindsight, Mary wishes she had asked for the name of a family pet that might have tripped up the scammer. “There were so many things I could have asked them that I didn't. I just feel stupid.”
Here are some tips, not only for the elderly, but their relatives, of what to be on the lookout for in these grandparent scams. Never wire money without first calling the grandchild who is supposedly jailed in another country. If the phony lawyer tells you to lie to your family or banker, that's a red flag. Tell grandchildren to be careful how much personal information they post on social media. Those sites are gold mines for con artists.