OCEAN CITY — Ocean City police are investigating a new variation on an old scam that snared an elderly resort woman last month and bilked her out of over $2,000.
Last month, an 84-year-old Ocean City woman got an early morning call from an individual claiming to be her grandson, who was in trouble and in dire need of financial assistance. The caller told his “grandmother” he was in St. Lucia for a wedding and that he had been in an accident, had broken his nose and was in jail on suspicion of driving while intoxicated. The caller told the victim he needed $2,000 to get out of jail and get medical attention for his injuries.
The unsuspecting grandmother, sensing one of her own was in trouble and needed immediate help, wired the $2,000 requested to the individual at the appointed place and time and also paid the $115 to complete the transaction. She later learned the caller was not her grandson, who was safely home in the U.S. and was not in a dire situation. On the other end of the transaction, an unknown individual picked up the wired money and completed another successful scam.
The scheme is not an entirely new one and different variations have been carried out on those most vulnerable for years, but the latest version is particularly insidious because of the resources the callers are using. In this case, the caller claimed to be the victim’s “favorite” grandson Jonathan and sprinkled references to other family members and other personal information throughout the plea for money that helped convince the victim the call was legitimate.
With the proliferation of social networks, such as Facebook, for example, personal information including family members, pictures, birthdays, vacations etc. are easily accessible to criminals intent on scamming the vulnerable. In another recent case reported in Maryland, an elderly Montgomery County couple wired thousands of dollars to a “grandson” in deep trouble in Mexico. In that example, the alleged relative had been in Mexico on a vacation, but had returned safely and was not in trouble. The perpetrator likely saw pictures or reports of the victim’s grandson on vacation in Mexico on Facebook and used that piece of information to set up the victim.
In the recent case in Ocean City, the victim’s daughter contacted state and federal law enforcement agencies along with the Ocean City Police Department, which is conducting its own investigation. The victim’s daughter, Karen Camp, who lives in Utah, said this week there is little hope in recouping the swindled money, but wanted to get a warning out to others who might be preyed upon.
“We realize recovery is a long shot at this point,” she said. “We just want other people to know about it so they aren’t victimized also.”
Camp said her mother was caught in a vulnerable moment by the scam and acted quickly to come to the aid of her alleged grandson.
“She got a call from a person claiming to be her favorite grandson Jonathan, although he goes by Jay,” she said. “It was early in the morning and the caller sounded convincing and in her panic, she got up and out and quickly wired the money. Somebody on the other end with a foreign sounding name actually claimed the money. She’s very prideful and she’s upset this happened, but it’s easy to see how she got victimized.”
Camp said the scam is not a new one, but the perpetrators have become even savvier with the proliferation of Facebook and other sources of private information shared with the public.
“It’s called the grandparents’ scam and it’s been going on for a long time, but it has really escalated recently because of Facebook and other social networks,” she said. “My mother is not rich, but this $2,000 isn’t going to kill her. For other victims on fixed incomes, this could be devastating.”
The OCPD is currently investigating the case, but the trail in these cases often goes cold because most of the scams involve wiring money to locations out of the country. OCPD spokesperson Jessica Waters also said this particular scam is not necessarily a new one, but agreed the scammers have become more sophisticated with the private information they are able to obtain about their potential victims.
“Unfortunately, it’s become very easy for scammers to get information that will help convince victims the calls are legitimate,” she said. “The bad guys can access that information to prey on their victims. We always suggest parents have a conversation with their kids about the types of private information they are putting out on Facebook and other social networks.”
Waters said there are several red flags for victims of these types of scams.
“The biggest red flag is the wiring of money,” she said. “Any time a caller asks for money to be wired via Western Union or another service, that should be a signal something isn’t quite right.”
Waters said scammers often prey on those most vulnerable and most likely to come to the aid of a relative. She said scammers will often apply pressure for the victims to act immediately.
“They pressure the victims to make a decision quickly,” she said. “If you’re feeling pressured and aren’t sure, hang up and call the police, or call another relative to confirm the situation.”