It’s every grandparent’s worst nightmare, a phone call with a panicky grandchild on the other end. “I’ve been arrested” they say “please don’t tell mom.” For one Winters resident this nightmare became reality. After being told of an arrest out of state, a grandmother was asked to provide $3,000.00 in Target gift cards to a lawyer over the phone. The money was supposed to go towards bond, instead the team of individuals working a “Hey Grandma” scam was able to take the money and run. It was only after calling to check on her family, the grandmother realized she had been scammed.
The “Hey Grandma” scam starts with a phone call. Scammers choose phone numbers at random, using telemarketing equipment and computer software to call hundreds of people a minute. Once they have a good phone number, they go to work and use the internet to associate the number to cities, addresses and names. Scammers then use the information throughout the call to make the person believe they know the area and the person’s family.
The scam caller often disguises their voice and waits for the person they called to use a name. The caller then confirms it’s them and tells of an emergency (they were arrested or robbed) then passes the person to a lawyer or a friend who will explain everything. Even if the person picks up red flags (voices that don’t sound right, situations that seem to be off, or unusual methods of payment) the caller will explain them away then hustle the person onto the next step. If the person hesitates and mentions wanting to check with family members or law enforcement, the scammer will tell them there is no time or that they are embarrassed and want to break the situation to family members themselves.
Scam callers will then demand payment, sometimes staying on the phone with people to encourage or berate them to hurry. Often the scammers will demand payment using gift cards because gift cards don’t carry the same protections credit or debit cards do. Once a person has given the gift card number and access code to the scammer, the funds are instantly removed from the card, often with no recourse. Victims of scams are often angry and embarrassed they were fooled and consequently may decide not to report the incident to law enforcement. For the grandmother who experienced this scam first hand, it was more important to her to share her story in the hopes it might help others avoid becoming victims of the same scam.