Last week I received a panicked call from my 90-year-old father and 88-year-old mother. They had just learned – by telephone – that their youngest grandson had been in a car accident after attending an out- of- state wedding; their 20 year old grandson had been drinking at the wedding and after he was taken to the hospital for his injuries, he was arrested and in jail.
The desperate telephone plea to his grandfather was for $12,000.00 so he could pay the lawyer who would post the bond. The grandson begged him not to tell his parents.
“Dad,” I told my father, “You need you to take a deep breath and listen to me carefully. This is a scam – a classic scam. There has not been an accident; your grandson is not in jail, and there is no lawyer or bail bondsman waiting for $12,000. And, Dad, you raised us to always turn to you when in trouble and never keep secrets, and that’s how we raised our own children – your grandchildren.”
“But it sounded just like him,” my father said. “No,” I said, “it did not sound like him. What you heard was ‘grandpa, I need help,’ and after that, you thought it sounded like him.”
My elderly parents agreed not to go to the bank and withdraw $12,000. My brother called his son (the grandson) at college, and he was studying for mid-term exams. My brother called our parents to assure them that their grandson was fine.
My father has a PH. D, my mother has a masters’ degree, and they live on their own, independently. It doesn’t protect them from being a scam target. It’s not just the elderly who are targets. A few years ago, my daughter received a cell phone call from the “IRS” informing her that she owed income taxes, that they knew where she lived, and they would be arresting her if she did not make immediate payment. My daughter told us later that day she was scared and didn’t know what to do until she asked the caller “how can I pay this? I don’t have the money.” The caller said she could pay with Green-Dot cards – a prepaid card. At that point, my daughter’s college education kicked-in and her reply to the caller is not printable!
We live in a cell phone, internet -connected world and we are all vulnerable as targets of scams. The scammers play on vulnerability, and for many seniors, insecurity, fear and loneliness.
Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it is not true. And if a caller is threatening or begging, that is also not likely true. Hang up, call someone you trust or love – never be embarrassed if you feel vulnerable. Then contact your local police precinct and file a police report about the incident. The police will give you a copy of the report and you can send a copy to the NYS Attorney General’s Office in your community because they also investigate scams.
At the end of that day, I called my parents and told them how proud I was they had called me first ‘about their jailed grandson’ because that call prevented them from being victims rather than just scam targets.