A New Twist On The Grandparent Phone Scam Strikes Benton County

Joyce Coates
County Reporter
Grandparents around the world can be counted on to do their best to help a grandchild in need. 
James and Betty Brent of Warsaw, MO are good examples of that trait.  They have a story to tell that they hope will save other grandparents from losing money in a scam like the one that nearly cost them thousands of dollars.
It all began with a telephone call very early on Tuesday morning, October 30. Betty answered, then shared the phone with James when the caller, without mentioning his own name, said he was calling with news about their grandson. 
“Judging by his voice I thought he was middle-aged.  He had a slight Spanish accent,” James said.
The man told us, “Your grandson is in jail in Las Vegas and needs your help! He was in a car accident and has a busted lip, a broken nose, and his front teeth were knocked out.” 
Little did they know that the caller’s spiel is from a script being used in a new round of the old “Grandparent Scam.” Fraudsters target people in the 65-plus age range because they are often more gullible and vulnerable to exploitation, especially when it comes to their grandchildren. 
“Your emotions get the best of you,” Mr. Brent said. Scammers know that emotions are the keys to success they continue to enjoy, despite widespread efforts to warn the public.
An ABC News program in November 2014 reported how perpetrators as skilled as top-level salespersons know how to get grandparents “under the ether.” A heightened emotional state overwhelms their usual skepticism.  Out of concern for their loved ones’ welfare, they act without thinking things through.   
Victims of the grandparent scam lose billions of dollars every year, and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the federal consumer protection agency, receives tens of thousands of complaints annually. Earlier in 2014, on April 17, CBS This Morning aired an interview of a convicted con man who shared his “trade secrets,” saying that once grandparents get emotionally involved in the scammer’s made-up story, they will fall for anything. 
Depending on who answered the telephone, he would say “Hi, Grandma (Grandpa); do you know who this is?” The grandparent answers: “Is it (Jerry)?” “Yeah, it’s me,” he would say, “and I’m in a little trouble….”, etc. Using similar tactics, Brents’ caller did not need to know the grandson’s name. Like the young man on CBS, he finessed the grandparents into revealing it.
About 1-in-50 people would believe when he called that he was their grandson (who sounded different, of course, because of a broken nose) and send the $2,000 he asked for. Although many con men (and women) work from outside the U.S. they use computer software to mask their real phone numbers, often using the area code and first three digits common to the area where the potential victims live. The CBS con man worked from Canada, scamming seniors in the U.S. 
Brents’ caller wanted $4,000. He gave details for sending it: in cash and wrapped in a magazine; sent through Fed Ex to an address in the Bronx, New York, marked ‘Legal papers.’ 
The Brents did ask questions: why was their grandson in Las Vegas, why so much money in cash, and why they should send the money to New York when their grandson was in Las Vegas.  James Brent said, “He had an answer for everything.”
Each time the Brents asked a question, the mystery caller added to the story line. He told them their grandson was in Las Vegas to attend a wedding but wound up in jail because he hit a car driven by a 17-year old who was eight months pregnant, and she had to be taken to a hospital because of her injuries. He said, their grandson had an appointment with a lawyer, and had to catch a flight at 5 p.m. Because the grandson was from out of state, he could choose any bondsman anywhere, and the one in New York was cheaper.
He asked if the Brents wanted to speak to their grandson. Shortly thereafter, someone called who James realized, in hindsight, was actually the same man they had been talking to, disguising his voice to sound like their grandson. Brent thought he detected a slight accent and told his ‘grandson’ that he sounded different; it was because of the swollen lip. “I’m calling from jail,” he told them, “and there’s a two-minute limit.” Whoever he really was called back four more times. 
As previously noted, the scam “nearly cost them thousands of dollars.” Compelled by the apparent urgency of the matter, despite some misgivings, Brent withdrew $4,000 cash from the bank, and drove to Sedalia where Fed Ex counter service is available.  He stashed the cash inside a magazine, as directed, and had in hand a piece of paper with the address he had been given of the intended but unnamed recipient in New York.
At Fed Ex, the employee at the counter asked what was inside the envelope, Brent, following explicit instructions not to tell anyone about the situation, told her he did not want to say what the contents were. He was sending them as “Legal papers.”  Nevertheless, the employee insisted that he tell her, and so he did.
“This is a scam,” she said, “and you need to report it to the Sedalia police.” Unable to find the police station, Brent drove back to Warsaw and to the Sheriff’s Office where he reported all that had transpired. 
Confirming the scam, the deputy advised Brent to return his money to the bank and if the scammer called again to refer him to the Sheriff’s Office. 
He called on Wednesday morning, asking if the money had been sent and when it would arrive. Brent gave him the Sheriff’s phone number.  “I am an attorney and I don’t need the phone number,” he replied before hanging up.
Sheriff Eric Knox said his office does not generate reports on most scams; they are referred to the Attorney General’s office. However, they do try to increase public awareness, and ask anyone contacted in such cases to report it to the Sheriff’s Office so they can verify the facts for them.
James and Betty Brent are extremely grateful to the Fed Ex employee whose diligence and compassionate concern saved them from being defrauded, and from losing what for them is a substantial sum of money.  Their story has a happy ending because they finally told what had happened to someone wise enough to direct them to law enforcement. Let that be the first step for anyone else facing the same or similar situations.