Your grandson is in trouble, desperate trouble. He’s being detained by police in Peru and needs several grand so he can post bail. You must wire it—now.
Not so fast, law enforcement authorities say. It may all be a hoax.
One of the phone scams of the moment involves some variation of pressuring the vulnerable into sending money for relatives who are supposedly in trouble. The caller then tries to push the victim to send the money without verifying the family member’s whereabouts.
Suffolk County Police issued a statement this month warning residents of an increase in reported incidents of such scams in recent months.
In one scenario, the caller claims he has just been in a car crash with a relative of the victim who refuses to pay for the damage, police said. The caller claims to be holding the relative at gunpoint until the victim shells out several thousand dollars. In other scenarios, the caller may claim a family member of the victim has been arrested and needs bail money or a family member owes some money. The victim is asked to withdraw funds from an ATM and is directed to an institution such as Western Union, to wire it.
Residents are urged to independently verify the threatened relatives whereabouts and to not give out personal information.
An elderly Shinnecock Hills woman fell for such a scam earlier this year, according to an incident report filed with Southampton Town Police.
She told officers that someone duped her into paying him $3,430. A man pretending to be her grandson called from a private number to say he was being detained by police in Peru because his friend was found with marijuana and needed her to wire $3,400 immediately for bail. He then handed the phone to another man who told the victim he was an officer. The “officer” gave instructions for her to transfer the amount plus a $30 fee to a certain account in Peru, which the victim did, only to learn later from her daughter that her grandson had not been out of the country.
Town Police Lieutenant Lisa Costa said there has not been a direct increase lately of such scams in Southampton, but that they do come around sporadically.
They can be extremely to hard to trace, because a lot of the crimes are committed overseas. “By the time they collect it, it’s too late,” she said. “It’s hard to catch the bad guy.”
East Hampton Town Police Chief Ed Ecker Jr. said his jurisdiction has seen such scams, although not a lot of them. He noted that typically such scams do not get reported unless the victim actually falls for them.
Other local police departments, including Southampton Village and Westhampton Beach Village, said they have not seen such scams lately, but are aware of them.
“It’s the ones that are isolated and alone, they’re the most vulnerable. The people who don’t have a wide social network or any kind of a network. Those are the ones I worry about,” said Pamela Giacoia, director of Senior Citizen Services for Southampton Town.
She said she has not seen examples of this particular type of scam, but has seen many times where the elderly served by her center have been preyed upon.
The center, therefore, can serve as a lifeline for those who are all alone, living away from their families and having outlived their friends, she said. Speakers often come to the center to inform seniors about such scams and to dispense safety tips, such as never giving their Social Security numbers over the phone or agreeing to pay money requested immediately.
“If you don’t know who this person is and they’re asking you questions that don’t seem right, hang up the phone,” Ms. Giacoia said, and call someone you can trust, like the senior center or the police.
“There’s always something,” she sighed, “always somebody looking to exploit somebody else’s misery.”