This scam usually targets seniors and is almost always done over the phone. Part of it relies on the confusion and feelings of sympathy it creates, but it also relies on finding victims who are a little hard of hearing. You don’t want them figuring out that the caller doesn’t sound at all like their precious little Suzie.
How it works is the scammer gets a list of phone numbers from some senior center and starts at the top. When they call each person, they say something like “Hello grandma? It’s me. I need help.” They don’t say who they are, they are just suggesting that they are the victim’s grandchild. The scammer puts a lot of fake fear and maybe some pathetic sounding tears in their voice.
The victim is usually taken by surprise and just assumes that the caller is their grandson or granddaughter. “Suzie, is that you? Oh goodness, what happened?”
“Yeah it’s me. I got arrested for drunk driving but it wasn’t really me. I wasn’t even driving but some other people said it was me. I want to go home. I can’t stand it here.” Can you just imagine how the scammer sounds saying that kind of stuff? If they’re really good they have friends in the background making fake jail sounds like banging on big metal bars.
The scammer then says they need to put $2,500 on a credit card so they can get out. “I didn’t know who else to call. I’m so scared. Can you please help me? I’m going to get hurt in this jail.” And then they say the important part “and please don’t tell anyone. They will just kill me for being out there with those people.”
What kind of grandparent wouldn’t instantly whip out their Visa and help cute little Suzie? Only really bad ones, that’s who. One version of this scam has the grandparents heading out to sending the money by Western Union or Moneygram. Those are less traceable once the money is delivered. Those versions don’t work so well because they give grandma time to call Suzie’s friends or something to confirm where she is. You don’t want to give grandma time to make another call. You want her to hand over her money while she is still under the misapprehension that her innocent little granddaughter is in danger of getting hurt in the jail’s shower by big mean people.
Usually the scammer has an accomplice ready to get on the line and pretend to be the jail Sergeant. They can “confirm” details of Suzie’s arrest and provide things like their “booking number” that has to be on the Western Union money order to pay the bail. The accomplice will then say that sweet little Suzie has to be transferred back to her pod with the child rapists and murderers they just arrested unless the victim agrees to go send the money order in five minutes or less. Hey, the jail’s booking officer needs confirmation of the pending bail payment or the release decision will have to wait until next week. Next week!!! Good lord, grandma has to get Suzie out of there right now.
Some of the details in this scam are:
- Grandma is asked to send money quickly – and secretly. Little Suzie doesn’t want grandma to tell anyone because they will just “kill her at Thanksgiving next week.”
- These scams happen a lot during spring break for obvious reasons. Grandma already knew her real Suzie was actually out there drinking up a storm in Cabo. A call about bail isn’t too far out of the question and grandma is a little easier to trick.
- The scammer can’t or won’t answer questions that only the real person would know. Of course they can’t. But don’t think they can’t do a little research on Facebook first and maybe know a few details from some family pictures. Plus scammers are smart enough to read grandma’s caller ID and run a Google search while they are listening to grandma’s long lecture on not drinking.
- The credit card theft might be covered by the victim’s bank. But the money order scam means the charge won’t be reversed, even if grandma puts the money order on her Visa. Money order transfers can be picked up by anyone with the confirmation number grandma gives them.
The people doing these scams can set up a phone line in their apartment that transmits the caller ID tag of “Chicago Police Department” or something. They will probably have Grandma call back and then ask for “Sergeant _______” in detention. It will look really legit. This scam really moves like wildfire among the senior circuit.