The most recent warnings were issued this week after three Idaho seniors lost thousands of dollars and a Maine grandfather nearly fell prey to the scam.
"You may think that you wouldn't fall for these scams, but they're designed to catch you off guard," Idaho Attorney General Wasden said in a statement. "Con artists play on your fears to make you do things you wouldn't normally do."Here is the account of one the three Idaho cases provided by the Wasden's office:
A Sandpoint man received a call from a young man whom he felt confident was his grandson. The caller told him that he was with a number of other young men, and he had been arrested for speeding and put in jail in Canada. He went on to say that the police searched their car and found marijuana. The grandparent was told to call an "Officer Steely" at a Toronto, Canada number. "Officer Steely" then instructed him to send $6,100 via Western Union to Nashville, Tennessee, because bail had been let out for competitive bid and the Nashville's bondsperson submitted the lowest bid. "Officer Steely" said that a bail bondsperson in Nashville would forward it to Canada, and the man's grandson would be released from jail. After being asked to send additional money for a court-ordered fine, the victim became suspicious and called his grandson, who was actually at home in Oregon.
Maine Attorney General William Schneider, who issued a warning in his state, said the victim there told the state's Consumer Protection Division someone claiming to be his grandson called him from what was purported to be a Canadian jail. There had been an accident, the caller said, and he needed the grandfather to wire him money to help get out of the bind.
When the grandfather went to Western Union, however, a representative there stopped the grandfather's intended $2,800 transfer and prompted him to call to his grandson -- who, it turned out, was fine, not injured and not in jail. The wire transfer, it turns out, would have gone to Spain.
The incident comes on the heels of about 20 successful swindles that operated along similar lines -- scams that parted seniors from some $3 million in the United States and Canada.
Toronto law enforcement recently arrested seven alleged scammers in connection with the calls. The scheme, officials said at the time, had been ongoing since November 2010, culling various sources to get names, phone numbers, and personal information about victims' families.
According to the warning issued by Schneider's office, the grandfather and his wife recently their 60th anniversary. Officials believe that the scammers used information in the couple's published anniversary notice in their attempt to get him to wire the money.
Consumer protection advocates offer the following tips when it comes to requests for wire transfers:
- Be wary of any unsolicited contact to wire money.
- Check the caller's number. Overseas or out-of-country calls, in connection with wire-transfer cons, are another common indicator of the scam.
- If a caller tells you that a family member is in trouble, and that they need a wire transfer to help, contact the family member directly via your own address book -- or contact one of his or her immediate relatives -- to confirm the story you've been told.