Grandmother opens up to help other seniors avoid scams


BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – When grandmother Helen answered her telephone, recently, a man calling himself “Andrew” and claiming to be a lawyer put a woman on the phone who sounded just like Helen’s granddaughter, “She was just trying to tell me the trouble she was in,” Helen recalled, “I was so convinced of that.”

In a matter of few hours the call would cost Helen, a suburban grandmother dearly, and she wanted to share her ordeal with News 4 viewers, so she contacted Call 4 Action.

The woman made Helen swear not to tell anyone, and reluctantly she did. That’s when the man posing as a lawyer gave Helen instructions to go to a nearby Walmart and buy 5 $1,000 gift cards. Helen said as went through with the gift card purchase, the Walmart employees suspected it was a scam, and were trying to help her out of it, but she didn’t tell the staffers the real reason she was buying the cards.

“They asked me all these question and there was not one person–they were calling each other, I think, to back them up.”

When “Andrew” the lawyer called back, she gave him the serial numbers for all 5 gift cards, the last time she talked to Andrew, and the last time she would see that $5,000. “I know I will never get the money back, either, and I accept that, but I would like them to be arrested.”

Not much chance of the scammers getting caught, either. Helen’s son-in-law, Mark, call the Erie County Sheriff’s office to report the ripoff, and Walmart reported the $5,000 was spent quickly at various Walmarts in the Cleveland area.

“There was not a lot Walmart could do,” Mark learned because the gift cards were purchased legally, “and the money was spent quickly before they could be traced.”

Authorities call this kind of con game the “Grandparent Scam” because crooks know grandparents have a special bond with their grandchildren, often to the exclusion of the parents.

Helen knows she made a number of mistakes, but that voice at the other end of the phone line sounded so much like her granddaughter, she was convinced she was in trouble, “I was back and forth in my mind–it is all about that she was hurt.”

Helen called her actual granddaughter to confirm the caller was her, but her granddaughter did not answer the phone, and her voicemail box was full at the time.

There are other ways of avoiding a Grandparent Scam, such as asking questions that only the grandchild would know. The Better Business Bureau Upstate has other tips to catch a scammer, and how to report a scam to the BBB to the BBB’s Scam Tracker.

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