A 21-year-old Clinton woman became ensnared by a cleverly reconfigured variation of the ever-popular (and effective) grandparent scam.
In the conventional grandparent scam, a senior citizen receives a call from someone posing as a grandchild, who is jailed, and needs bond money.
The version I report to you today moves out of the family and into the workplace and took aim at a workplace supervisor.
Let’s call the young victim Summer. Summer worked as an assistant manager at a busy Clinton restaurant. The restaurant employs a lot of part-time staff, many even younger than Summer.
Summer got a call at the restaurant in mid-April from a man who identified himself as Detective Dawson, a local law officer. He told Summer he arrested one of her part-timers for drunken driving after a traffic accident. “Confidentially reasons” prevented the caller from naming the detained employee, but he did offer an exceedingly vague description, prompting Summer to start name-dropping. This caller coaxed Summer into identifying someone, and offered to let Summer post a $2,000 bond, however “because of coronavirus, you can’t go to the police station.”
Instead, the supposed law officer suggested Summer purchase gift cards. Summer went all in for that. She wanted to help out her unlucky 17-year-old employee and “went on a mission,” in Summer’s words. She left the restaurant, got the cash from her savings, and paid visits to several convenience stores, buying a Moneypak card at each, and loading each with $500.
Detective Dawson kept Summer on the phone the entire time, instructing her to read him each card’s serial number after the purchase.
After Summer bought four cards and loaded $2,000 on them, the phony detective told Summer to destroy the cards and receipts, “so no one else can use them.” That sounded plausible enough to Summer, so she did just that.
And in one further final blow to Summer, this fake officer told Summer he needed her birthdate, Social Security number, and address, “to run a background check and make sure you are qualified to post bond.” This sounded real enough to Summer, so she complied with that demand also.
Summer returned to the restaurant, confident she did the right thing and pleased she was able to help. And then she saw the 17-year-old she imagined she posted bond for, at work, performing her duties. Summer realized at that moment, crooks duped her.
In hindsight, Summer realized she overlooked a parade ground of red flags. These red flags are characteristic of most imposter scams. It does not matter what kind of story you hear, if you see these warning signs, STOP:
• You are contacted by someone claiming to be an official or authority
• You need to act quickly to deal with an alarming and unexpected situation
• You must not talk to anyone about what you are doing. Scammers kept Summer on the phone to prevent her from reaching out for help or advice
• Scammers want gift cards and want their codes or serial numbers. Google Play, eBay, Nike, Target, and Best Buy are desirable right now, but that can change by the week
Summer’s unfortunate story also shows us, senior citizens aren’t the only folks with targets on them. We all need to heed the warnings you just read.