Desk of the DA: beware the phone scam

This month’s message from Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore focuses on some recent phone scams targeting senior citizens:

Police in Mount Pleasant and New Castle have recently received reports of a series of calls to elderly residents with urgent requests for money. In one instance, a caller told a grandfather that his grandson had been in an accident in Mexico and needed $2500 wired immediately. The grandfather sent the money, and then sent another $2500 when he received a second call, but it was all a hoax. In another case, a caller claimed a grandchild was in jail in Bolivia and urgently needed $4500 for bail. The grandfather got in touch with his grandson and realized this was a scam before sending the money.

These are not rare or isolated cases. One frequently reported version of this scam involves a phone call that begins with a young caller saying “Hi, this is your favorite grandson”. The grandparent naturally responds with the grandson’s name, which the con artist then uses. The caller then tells the grandparent that he is in trouble overseas and needs money immediately, claiming either to have been in an accident, or to have lost his passport and wallet, or to have some other emergency. In these cases, when a caring grandparent wires money overseas, it is picked up immediately by the scammers and is not recoverable.

If you receive an urgent call asking for help for a family member overseas, be suspicious and make every attempt to find out whether the emergency is real before acting. Ask for the caller’s name and contact information. Make some calls and find out whether the story is true. Don’t be pressured by a caller who tells you that you must act immediately. Even if the caller’s account is true, there is no emergency so critical that you cannot take some time to verify the facts. And if you have been the victim of one of these scams, don’t blame yourself. These con artists are professional criminals who take advantage of a grandparent’s natural desire to help a grandchild.

As with all unsolicited phone calls, be cautious and do not provide any personal or financial information to the caller. Do not respond immediately to requests for donations or offers to sell you things. Instead, ask for the caller’s name, firm and contact information, and then decide whether to respond after you have had time to consider the call. Report any phone calls that you consider suspicious to your local police department.

Rebecca Baker

Rebecca Baker joined The Journal News in March 2004. She covers Eastchester, Bronxville and Tuckahoe, and was previously the state and county courts reporter in Westchester County. In prior jobs, she covered the Town of Greenburgh and Rockland County government and politics. Before coming to The Journal News, she was a municipal reporter for newspapers in New Haven, Conn. and Warren, Ohio.