Brian Stanley: Everyone is a potential victim
May 3, 2012 7:32PM
Updated: June 5, 2012 11:31AM
Apparently “The Canadian Grandson” is traveling in Spain this time of year.
While writing a story about a different case, I asked New Lenox Deputy Chief Robert Pawlisz if anything else was new. Scamming the elderly is, he admitted, nothing new unfortunately.
But last week a senior was conned by “The Canadian Grandson,” which is also called the “It’s Me.”
With seniors, the scam is done over the phone. I’ve wondered how someone would know if their would-be victim even has grandchildren or what the relative’s name is. A detective told me last time I reported on one of these that isn’t usually a concern. If you are Tim’s grandfather and answer a call to someone who says “Grandpa?” you’re likely to respond with “Tim?” providing enough information for a sharp “operator” to make his pitch.
If you don’t have a grandson, you’ll say, “Sorry, wrong number” and think little of the phone call once you’ve hung up.
The bogus descendant will then claim to have been arrested in a foreign country and needs bail money wired over. Some con artists have used this in Canada and England. In this recent case, the man ended up sending $1,900 to Spain. After the victim sent the money he discovered that this was a scam and his grandson was at home.
Those of us who are not yet senior citizens and may be more tech savvy should keep in mind, it’s even easier for crooks to connect with victims online. By hacking into an email account and looking at the address book they can send out an email to all of the contact names saying the person has been arrested.
The message will say how embarrassed they are, so don’t tell anyone about this — which increases the scammer’s chances of pulling it off. Most people will recognize the message is bogus, but the slim possibility of hooking just one victim is worth the crook’s minimal effort.
Detectives have told me identity theft is the fastest-growing crime because it’s so easy. Low risk, high reward.
You can sit at a computer on the other side of the world from your victim and the police they would report your crime to. You type up one email and send it out to anyone you can think of. If you get something, great, if not you keep trying until you do.
“Robbing a bank will get you a couple hundred or thousand dollars and that’s all,” a detective once told me. “You can get shot, you might not get away. With scams, police will take a report, but they can’t afford to send anyone to another country or state to investigate. Even if someone gets caught, they haven’t committed a violent crime and will get a lighter sentence. Low risk, high reward,” he reasoned.
Who knows if this recent victim was the tenth or 1,000th person they had tried it on that day. Since many people feel embarrassed being taken by fraud, it’s likely many cases aren’t reported.
I can be fooled too, though I doubt this particular scam would’ve worked when any of my grandparents were alive.
Telling Grandma and Grandpa Vogt I had been arrested in Spain, would’ve resulted in them saying not to come see them in three to five years and hanging up. Grandma Stanley would have asked to speak to the officer just to make sure I was OK, mentioned what a fine job he was doing, somehow gotten connected to his supervisor, transferred to someone else and moved up the chain until the prime minister had me dressed in a very warm coat and escorted back by two Guardia Civil officers who would feel honored to kiss her cheek.
But everyone is a potential victim and police say the easiest way to make sure you’re not ignoring a family member in a desperate situation is to hang up and call a phone number you know is his or hers.
More than likely, the family member will answer, be in the United States, have no idea what you’re talking about, but hopefully will still be glad to hear from you.