Randy Meier

RANDY MEIER

Seniors vs. Crime Columnist

 Remember the grandparent scam? Someone calls you posing as your grandchild — or much less frequently, some other relative — and needs money right away to get bailed out of jail? 

I sure hope you remember it, because Seniors vs. Crime and every other law enforcement authority has been warning seniors about this scam for decades. I talk about it every time I make a presentation, or any chance I get for an audience.

And yet, and yet … we are still falling for it. 

A Camanche woman reported losing $32,000 last week, believing the all-too-familiar script of her “grandson” in jail. Although her fake grandson and the other crooks she talked to told her the arrest took place in DeWitt, they persuaded her to withdraw $28,000 in cash and send it in two different parcels to Brooklyn, New York, over the course of two days. 

Still not satisfied, the crooks called back a third time, offering a bogus explanation why they needed still more money. This time, they wanted $4,000 in Home Depot cards. The Camanche woman bought the cards and revealed the card PIN numbers to the crooks, which allowed them to charge merchandise against the cards.

While most of what happened in this case comes from a very dog-eared playbook, I saw a couple of newer wrinkles. Gift cards are the favorite method of transferring money in scams now, but Home Depot cards are an unusual call. Packaging cash in a parcel for delivery was almost unheard of by me until recent months, but seems more common. That might have something to do with money transfer services like Western Union and Moneygram really tightening down on transfers, especially of larger amounts.

This sad story shows me we need to keep up the education about frauds. And it’s not just my job. We can all help. Besides educating yourself about scams, go to others you might consider vulnerable and ask them a couple of questions, like these:

• Do you know what a scam looks like?

• What would you do if a stranger contacted you for money?

• Who do you trust for help and advice if you run into a situation where someone is pressuring you for money?

The answers to these questions should give us an idea how closely we need to watch over our relatives and friends.

Caribbean vacation

The many islands and beaches of the Caribbean and Mexico are a big attraction for a lot of us, especially in winter. Often this involves a flight out of O’Hare or Midway in Chicago pretty early in the morning. To tap into this market of travelers, many hotels around these airports offer Park and Fly which extends free parking on the hotel premises for guests who stay the night before their flight. This service includes shuttles to and from the airport on return. It’s a pretty decent deal and mighty convenient.

But a Clinton man tells a story how even this service comes with a risk. This fellow, I’ll call him Mark, took a one-week trip with his family in May to Mexico. They wanted to take advantage of Park and Fly, so they stayed in one of the nearby airport hotels close to O’Hare. In something out of my experience or anyone else I talked to about this, the hotel staff required Mark to surrender the car keys. One of Mark’s party, out an abundance of caution, photographed the odometer when they parked.

One week later, on their return from beachcombing and sunshine, Mark found the odometer gained 349 miles while parked at the hotel. And there’s more. The car was equipped with an I-Pass, the Illinois Tollway transponder which electronically pays your tolls. The I-Pass record showed the car went through three toll booths in Chicagoland on two separate days.  Initially, Mark encountered a remarkable lack of concern on the part of the hotel, but this story is not over.

The lesson here seems self-evident — hang on to your keys. Before you book a Park and Fly hotel, find out their practice on leaving cars and keys. I’d steer clear of a place wanting my keys.

Robocalls to court

Lots of folks ask me, “why can’t they do something about these robocalls?” or if they “ever get caught?” 

I can answer the second question: yes, kind of. That answer comes after learning about a recent settlement between the Federal Trade Commission, and two different groups of defendants. These defendants were the ones who engineered the robocalls from a couple of years ago, in which “John from the shipping department” called to schedule delivery of “your free medical alert device.” 

If you responded, you did get a free device, but you paid a costly monthly monitoring fee which no one told you about up front. 

The two groups of robocallers responsible made over a billion calls. They agreed to settle the complaint filed by the government by paying a $25.3 million fine, but suspended payment of all but $2 million. And they agreed to never do it again.

Contact me

Let me know about scams, fraud, or other crookedness you run across. Most of what I learn, I learn from you. Contact me at Seniors vs. Crime, Clinton County Sheriff’s Office, 563-242-9211 extension 4433, or email me at randymeier@gapa911.us