5 On Your Side

Don't be a victim of this 'grandparent scam'

Posted July 16
Updated July 17

— Statistics show that the some of the most common victims of scams are also some of the most compassionate people -- senior citizens.

It's the generosity and kindness of seniors that many thieves target in a variety of scams, and one of the most common, "The Grandparent Scam," was used on Vivien Serff, a local woman.

Scammers called Serff, pretending to be a grandchild in trouble, and left her in tears.

"When I answered the phone, he said, 'Hello Grandma,' and I said 'Hi,' and he said "Do you know who this is?' and that was my first mistake," said Serff.

"I said, 'Well, it's either Kyle or Seth,' so he picked Kyle."

The voice on the other end was really a scam artist pretending to be Kyle to take advantage of Serff. He shared a complicated, detailed story as to why he needed bail money right away.

"He said that he had flown here for his friend's funeral, and then he told me about getting in a wreck and being charged with drunk driving," said Serff. "They play on your emotions and make it sound as bad as they can so that you don't really stop and think about what's going on."

The scammer told Serff the public defender would call to tell her how much money was needed. Her radar was already up, but it sounded an alarm when the "public defender" called.

"Something just didn't sound right," said Serff. "So that's when I asked her for Kyle's full name and his date of birth, and she didn't even have that."

In the last year, the Attorney General's office received 235 complaints about the grandparent scam. They said 57 people lost money, sending an average $4,700 each.

One of those victims was a 74-year-old in Burlington woman who received a call that was supposedly from her son, who was also in trouble and in need of bail money. Concerned and caught off guard, she went to Home Depot and loaded $4,500 dollars on nine different prepaid debit cards. By the time she figured out it was a scam, $2,000 of it was already gone.

As for Serff, after talking with the phony public defender, she called her grandson. "I was concerned about him," she said. "I said, 'So you're not in jail in New Jersey,' and he said 'What!?'"

Serff knows these scammers are pretty good at lying, which is why she shared her story -- to keep others from being victims of the same crime.

"They can be very, very convincing," she said. "They're the scum of the earth!"

The takeaway? Thieves in this type of scam and others they try to get you worked up, worried and moving quickly, so hang up and call the person or company yourself if something feels fishy. For more tips, check out Consumer Reports' online guide.

2 Comments

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  • Phillip Mozingo Jul 19, 8:00 a.m.
    user avatar

    This happened to my Father in Law a few months back. This is happening all over the country. If your loved one has been involved in an accident, the only people you should hear from is medical staff advising you of such and NOT asking for anything or another family member. Lawyers and law enforcement will never ask for money in these situations. If they ask you to load pre-paid debit cards, iTunes cards or anything such as that, RED FLAG IT!!

  • Catherine Edwards Jul 18, 2:24 p.m.
    user avatar

    I'm glad she figured it out on time. It would help if we told our elderly parents/grandparents about these type of scams, so they are aware of them in advance.