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Canadian phone scam targeting Pima County elderly again

Canadian caller poses as grandchild needing cash to avoid jail term

When 74-year-old Catherine Wood got the call that her 19-year-old grandson Brandon had been arrested, she panicked.

He needed $5,000 to avoid being put in a Canadian jail or else he would be considered absent without leave from the ship where he was stationed with the U.S. Marine Corps.

The problem – Brandon was safe and sound on his ship and Wood was becoming a victim of the “grandparent scam.”

According to the Pima County Sheriff’s Department at least five elderly people in the county, including Wood and 90-year-old Leslie Lawrence, have been victimized by the scam in the past three months.

The pretend Brandon used Wood’s fears and love for her grandson, while playing off of information she unwittingly fed him, to talk her into sending money to Canada, where he said he had been arrested for a hit- and-run accident.

It was the money-transfer employee at Wal-Mart who told Wood’s husband that she didn’t feel right about sending the money, as the situation felt like a scam.

After some calls to police in Ontario, to the Marines and to her daughter, Wood was able to determine that her grandson wasn’t in Canada, although because of his deployment she couldn’t contact him directly.

Lawrence said the scammer who called him actually used his grandson’s name, Eric, when he started the phone call, which confused him.

“This kid, young fellow, was desperate,” Lawrence said. “I said your voice don’t sound right and he said ‘Well I’ve been drinking and I’m stressed.’ ”

Lawrence’s grandson works at the University of Phoenix in Maricopa County and Lawrence said he didn’t think he could be in Canada, but the desperation in the caller’s voice kept him on the line.

A “corrections officer” also got on the line and told Lawrence that his grandson had failed a sobriety test and drugs were found in the car. If the grandfather sent $2,000, the grandson wouldn’t have to stay in jail and could go home.

“He really played up ‘Don’t tell mom because I’m so embarrassed,’ ” Lawrence said. “He put it over pretty good.”

When Lawrence got off the phone, he called the real Eric’s office number and was able to track Eric down at his desk.

He said there were signs during the conversation that something was amiss, such as the caller calling him “grandfather” instead of “poppa” and not sounding like his grandson.

The scammers called Lawrence and Wood several times. One time to say they were in trouble, another time so the grandparent could talk to a corrections officer or lawyer and a third time to give an address where money needed to be sent.

When the third call came, Wood was ready. She told the scammer that the Marines were going to pay his fine and that she had a number for him to call.

“I said they are going to send the money and he hung up,” she said.

Anne Hilby, spokeswoman for the Arizona Attorney General’s Office, said the grandparent scam has been around for about five years, but has recently resurfaced in Arizona.

She advised seniors to joke around with someone who says, “It’s your favorite grandson” by asking, “Which one?” or to establish a secret code with family members that can help the victim from being scammed.

Those who believe they have been a victim of such a scam are encouraged to call the Attorney General’s Office in Tucson at 628-6504.

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Grandparent scams reported to the Pima County Sheriff’s Department

Dec. 10, 2008

Male victim received a phone call from a male pretending to be his grandson. The “grandson” said he had been involved in a collision and needed money sent to Boston, Mass. The victim sent $2,500 and then later contacted family members who advised him that he had been scammed.

Dec. 19, 2008

Male victim received a phone call from a female who identified herself as his granddaughter. The female said she had gotten into an accident and needed $2,000 to repair her vehicle in Denver. The victim sent $2,000, but later learned he had been scammed.

Feb. 25

Female victim received a call from a male who told her he was her grandson, Nathaniel. He said he had an accident in California and needed money to return home to New Mexico. The victim sent the caller, who knew personal information about her family, $2,500. The victim later learned her grandson had been working in New Mexico and was not in an accident.

March 2

Male victim Leslie Lawrence received a call from a male from Canada claiming to be his grandson, Eric. The male told the victim he was stopped by the police in Canada and that there were drugs in the vehicle. The caller asked for $2,000. Lawrence did not believe the caller was his grandson and contacted his family members who told the victim to contact law enforcement.

March 11

Female victim received a phone call from a male subject who was calling her grandma. The caller told the victim he had gotten in trouble in Canada and his car had been impounded. The caller said he needed $3,200 sent to him. The victim believed the call to be a scam and reported the information to law enforcement.

Source: Pima County Sheriff’s Department

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