Elderly woman loses $3,500 to a phone scam

December 23, 2011 10:11:27 PM PST
If you get a call from a loved one in trouble, it's a good bet you'd do anything to help. One elderly Bay Area woman was absolutely sure she was helping out a favorite nephew, but it was really a swindle that cost her a bundle.

7 On Your Side reported about these scams many times, but the predators are out there in force, especially during the holidays. This woman came to me after she fell for a scam and lost a big chunk of her retirement.

The phone call came out of the blue, and when she answered, Beverly Joe heard a frightened voice.

"My nephew said, 'I wasn't drunk, but they threw us all three of us into the pokey and they want $3,500 bail,'" said Joe.

The man on the phone said he was Joe's nephew, attending a wedding in the Dominican Republic with two friends, when they got into a car crash and were tossed in jail.

"I said, 'You sound funny Jeffrey, why do you sound like that?' He said, 'It's because my nose is broken from the car crash,'" said Joe.

The man pleaded with Joe not to tell anyone what happened, but could she please wire him $3,500 for his bail.

"He didn't want his parents to know, so I could understand that," said Joe.

She is in her 80s and getting around is difficult, but she got a friend to drive her to the bank, then wired $3,500 to the Dominican Republic.

"Then he called me back. My nephew said, 'Did you send the money?' I said, 'Yes, you should get pretty soon, any minute now,' and he thanked me and thanked me and he says, 'Oh, I love you so much,'" said Joe.

The next day, there was another frantic call. The man said he needed more cash, this time to pay the hospital.

"I said, 'Ohhhh, again?' I said, 'Jeffrey, you know my health's not great and I have to run around like this,'" said Joe.

But she did. Joe got to the bank and wired another $3,300 to the caller. This time, however, Western Union smelled a scam. It blocked the transaction and gave Beverly her $3,300 back. But she was still convinced her nephew was stuck in the Caribbean.

"I said, 'This is too much, I have to tell his mother.' I said, 'Did you know Jeffrey's in the Dominican Republic?'" said Joe.

Well, no he wasn't. Joe was told her nephew had never left home.

"I said, 'Oh my God, I've been scammed," said Joe.

"It's an old trade. It's been going on for hundreds of years," said San Francisco Police Lt. Arthur Stellini.

Stellini investigates financial crimes. He says scam artists like these often prey on seniors by exploiting a common trait -- their love of family.

"They're good trusting people and that's how they were victimized. They were victimized on their good nature," said Stellini.

"The story he concocted was so real. I care enough about this nephew to do these things, run around for him. If it were true, I wouldn't want him to stay in jail another night," said Joe.

However, now Joe says she's learned a tough lesson, that she's a lot less trusting, and wants us to warn you too.

"Watch out. If it happened to me, it can happen to you," said Joe.

So far police have not caught the scammer in this case. If you get a frantic call supposedly from a loved one, don't hesitate to check with other family members before you believe the story. Also ask for a number so you can return their call. And if a stranger asks you to wire money, it's almost certainly a scam.

Before you say you can't be taken, remember that these guys are pros.

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