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A wary Mississippi widow has thwarted efforts by a crook whom she believes got information from an obituary, then attempted to use it to rip her off with the “grandparent” scam.
This story proves that scammers are not above taking advantage of people going through some of life’s greatest trials, but also how quick thinking and a healthy dose of skepticism can help you avoid becoming a victim.
You may recall that I recently wrote about this pernicious scam, in which the scammer calls an elderly person pretending to be a grandchild or other relative who’s in trouble and needs money fast. But they met their match when they called this 81-year-old Flowood widow one morning a couple of weeks ago. She didn’t want to share her name but wanted to tell her story to help others who may be at risk. “If I could save just one person from being taken in, it would be worth the trouble,” she told me.
Our potential victim, who lost her husband of 63 years in March, believes the crook used information gleaned from an online obituary for her husband. When she got a call recently purportedly from her grandson Brad in Omaha, Nebraska, she immediately sensed that something wasn’t right.
“It’s bad when they start using the obituaries,” she told me. “I can see where people in a bereaved state could be taken in by this scam.”
Her internal alarm bells began to ring immediately as she got the call, allegedly from Brad (but in a different voice than usual) who said simply, “This is Brad. The reason I’m talking like this, my nose is broken.” But that set off an immediate red flag, since Brad would never just start talking to her without addressing her as “Mom-maw.” But she went with it anyway, to see where the story would lead.
“Brad” went on to tell the potential victim that he had been in a “bad, bad wreck,” describing a situation in which a friend named “Sam” had asked for transportation to the doctor’s office. On the way, they had been in a car accident. “Sam,” the story went, was taken away in an ambulance, and “Brad” was charged with reckless driving. “Sam’s lawyer says if I can get the bail money he can get me out of jail,” he continued. “So, I thought maybe you could send me some money.”
But the wary widow wasn’t having any of it, and told the caller that all her money was tied up. “Why haven’t you called your dad?” she asked, then the caller hung up abruptly. She knew that, if Brad had really been in an accident, his first call would be to his dad, who lives nearby. “Brad would have called his dad before he even got out of the wrecked car,” she noted.
This is a textbook version of the grandparent scam, in which the caller lays out a potentially believable story, then asks for money — throwing in a few details along the way to make the story sound legit. Since obituaries contain a lot of details about the deceased person’s family, locations and interests, they can be a potential treasure trove of information for would-be scammers.
And, if our suspicious senior had not been skeptical about the call she got that day, she might have been taken in. But it’s the details that gave the scammer away: subtle differences in the words he used, departures from normal behavior and facts that just don’t add up. Unfortunately, many people each year fall victim to scammers using these tactics, sending millions via Western Union or GreenDot, never to be seen again. These crooks know their devious craft and do their homework.
This lady’s story illustrates the fact there is danger from these scams, and how having presence of mind can help you detect when a story is not all it’s being claimed to be. If you get a call like this one, exercising a bit of skepticism can keep you from making a costly mistake if you fall for it.