Con artists target elderly with granny scam

March 31, 2011 7:51:51 PM PDT
Here's a warning for grandparents -- don't be fooled by con artists who prey on your love for your grandchildren. It's a ruse that's on the rise.

Like most people, the Higgins thought they could never be a victim of something like this, but con artists took thousands of dollars from them and now they want to make sure your family isn't next.

Mary Higgins from Petaluma, 86, doesn't move as fast these days, but she's quick to warn others about what authorities commonly refer to as "the granny scam".

"If anybody ever asks to send them money for anything, just don't believe it," said Mary.

Mary took a call from someone pretending to be her grandson William, the boy she raised as a child and considers to be her own son.

"I said, 'You don't sound like you.' He said, 'Well I have a cold,'" said Mary.

The caller told her he had gotten into a drunk driving accident in the Dominican Republic and needed money to get out of jail and pay his victim.

"I was devastated. I thought, 'Good heavens, that's terrible,'" said Mary.

She was so devastated, she wired him money twice. First sending him $4,500 and then another $3,000 the next day when he said he needed more money. Her son Gary went with her to withdraw the money.

"He had all the right answers for everything. So we went down to the bank, drew the money out of the bank. Went to the Western Union office," said Gary Higgins.

Detective Gregory Ovanessian of the San Francisco Police Department has seen a big increase in this con nationwide.

"It's done in kind of a unique way. Many times the voice of the caller may be garbled or they may speak softly," said Ovanessian.

The detective works in the fraud division and advises seniors to verify everything before acting.

"I tell them to make sure they are in fact talking to their grandchild. They can ask some questions. They can also check out the information," said Ovanessian.

Both Mary and Gary are kicking themselves for falling victim.

"It made me feel I had failed protecting my mother and doing the right thing in having her draw out all the money from her accounts," said Gary.

"No, I don't blame anybody. No, I blame myself for believing them in the first place," said Mary.

The con often involves a second person on the phone impersonating the grandchild's attorney. Police say it's best to get a call back number. Also, verify the story by checking with other relatives, although it's likely the caller will urge you to keep everything confidential so he or she won't get into any trouble.

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