Macon woman victim of ‘grandparent scam’

alopez@macon.comNovember 28, 2013 

Yetta Price fell victim to the “grandparent scam” in September. A caller impersonating her granddaughter said she needed money because of a car accident. “I feel like a complete idiot,” Price said.

ANDRES DAVID LOPEZ/THE TELEGRAPH — alopez@macon.com

  • For more information

    Senior citizens who suspect they have fallen victim to fraud are encouraged to call the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging’s new toll-free fraud hotline.

    The hotline will be staffed by a team of investigators who have experience with investment scams, identity theft, bogus sweepstakes, lottery schemes and Medicare and Social Security fraud. Investigators will directly examine complaints and refer them to proper local authorities. They also will be able to keep track of emerging scams and trends in order to bring attention to them at the federal level.

    Investigators are available weekdays 9 a.m.-5 p.m. at 1-855-303-9470.

    People also can report fraud by filling out an online form at www.aging.senate.gov/fraud-hotline.

    Source: The U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging

Yetta Price, 80, thought her granddaughter was in trouble.

Price, who lives in Macon, received a phone call two months ago from someone she thought was her granddaughter. But actually the person on the other end of the line was a scam artist impersonating her granddaughter.

“It sounded so much like her,” Price said.

The impersonator told Price she had been involved in a car accident in Clearwater, Fla., and needed “Grams” to send money to help her avoid a driving-while-intoxicated charge. She put a man on the phone who told her he was a lawyer.

“And she begged me not to tell her mother,” Price said. “I was just in a tizzy about the whole thing.”

The impersonator instructed Price to wire money to Lima, Peru. She complied.

“When it’s your grandkids or your kids, you just get carried away,” Price said. “I would do anything.”

The next day the scammers called back and asked for more money. They told Price that someone had died because of her granddaughter’s accident, and they needed to cover funeral costs.

Price sent thousands of dollars to Peru in four transactions through Money Gram, Western Union and a wire transfer from her bank account.

Price agreed to be interviewed by The Telegraph on the condition that the newspaper not disclose exactly how much money she lost.

“I feel like a complete idiot,” she said. “I haven’t even told my best girlfriends.”

Price fell victim to what officials call the “grandparent scam.” The perpetrators used the love she has for her granddaughter against her, and now she has no recourse for recovering the money. Her case is not uncommon.

Two weeks ago in North Carolina, Navy veteran Ira Schwarz received a call from somebody claiming to be his grandson in jail in Guatemala. Following the grandparent scam standard procedure, the grandson asked Schwarz not to contact his parents.

Reached by phone last week, Schwarz said he was “dubious” about the call but couldn’t be sure the story wasn’t true.

He withdrew the money from his bank account, but he planned to ask his grandson to answer key identifying questions before wiring it. Before he got the chance, his wife made contact with their son, who contacted the U.S. embassy in Guatemala and determined the call was not legitimate.

Since the incident, Schwarz shared his story with the Winston-Salem Journal, the newspaper where he lives, and said he instituted a family password system so he can safely determine whether a call from a family member is legitimate.

In a June news release, North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper said his office has heard from more than 150 residents there who have lost more than $1 million to the grandparent scam since 2011.

The Office of the Attorney General of Georgia does not deal directly with consumer scams. An office spokesman said he isn’t aware of any state agency that would keep those records.

The number of people who fall victim to the scam in Georgia are high, said FBI Special Agent Stephen Emmett, of the Atlanta field office, but official reporting is questionable.

“The victims are often embarrassed to come forward,” he said.

And once a victim reports the scam, because wire transfers are difficult to trace, there is not much the victim can do to recover a loss. “Once you provide the money, it’s gone,” Emmett said.

“It’s hard to work on these kinds of cases,” he said. “The key is to raise awareness before they happen.”

The agency encourages people to resist pressure to act quickly, to try to contact a family member to determine whether the call is legitimate and to never wire money based on a request made over the phone or email.

Emmett said social media often is an important component in making the grandparent scam work. The more details scammers have about potential victims, the easier it is for them to impersonate a loved one.

“There’s a lot of public information on Facebook,” Emmett said.

Price, for instance, does not know how her scammer targeted her or how she knew that her granddaughter lives in Clearwater.

The FBI has been aware of the grandparent scam since 2008, according to an agency news release. The FBI constantly is trying to adapt to new scams and technology and alert the public. One example is the use of voiceover Internet protocol technology that allows scammers to appear on caller IDs with whatever area code they desire.

Emmet released an alert in September on the emergence of scammers using Green Dot MoneyPak cards instead of wire transfers to get money from victims. That method involves calling people about a sweepstakes and having them purchase the cards preloaded with cash from retailers, then getting them to read card serial numbers over the phone.

Last week, a scammer impersonating Georgia Power called a Macon man and requested he purchase three MoneyPak cards to avoid having his power shut off, according to a Bibb County Sheriff’s Office investigative report.

On the front page of the Green Dot website there is a public notice:

“Green Dot is not responsible for paying you back. Your MoneyPak is not a bank account. The funds are not insured against loss.”

Price, who plays bridge with friends and volunteers once a week at Macon Outreach where she distributes clothing and hygiene packs to the needy, said she has lost hope of recovering her money.

A widow for 30 years, she said her husband, a chemical engineer, left her financially secure and the scam did not ruin her.

“I’m not going to lose my house,” she said.

Still, Price said she hopes other grandparents don’t make the same mistakes she did.

“Investigate further,” she said. “When they say don’t tell anybody, you should tell.”

To contact writer Andres David Lopez, call 744-4382.

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