COPPERAS COVE — An elderly resident last week stopped a potential phone scam by asking one simple question and reporting the incident to police. His action came just weeks after a husband and wife in their 70s lost $40,000 to a similar call.
“When I answered the phone, I noticed right away that caller ID said ‘unknown caller’,” Nelson Helm said. “And, right away, a voice said, ‘Hello, Grandpa’.”
The person on the other end of the phone explained he was in a car accident and police were throwing him in jail for driving while intoxicated, Helm said.
“It sounded like a voice that could have been my grandson’s,” Helm said, adding the unknown caller continued the ruse by saying, “I am surprised you recognized my voice because I have had a cold.”
According to the AARP, older adults are frequently targeted by fraudulent and deceptive business practices and scam artists because they are perceived as more likely to trust and act politely toward strangers.
Phone and email scams are abundant throughout the United States, said Sgt. Julie Lehmann, a spokeswoman with the Cove Police Department. In Cove, there are between one and two phone scam incidents reported every month.
The “grandparents” scam is common, she said.
On Aug. 23, a local couple reported they had been scammed. They lost $40,000, and they were older than 70, Lehmann said.
“It is sad that people take advantage of the elderly, who are using their life savings and think they are helping loved ones,” she said.
The case was similar to Helm’s phone call, but it got elaborate, Lehmann said. Someone even pretended to be an attorney or police officer and said charges would be dropped if they could pay the fines.
In these types of cases, the grandchild will be “boo wooing so bad that they can’t really tell” who it is, Lehmann said.
It is hard to solve these cases because the money is generally sent through cash transfer companies, which require a tracking number to withdraw the money, Lehmann said.
To avoid scams, people need to be cautious and try to verify the information given to them.
If they say they are your grandson, call his parents, Lehmann said.
If they are injured, ask what hospital they are in. Then look up the hospital and call it.
If they are at the police department, look up the police department and call the station.
A few things about the conversation tipped off Helm that the call was a scam.
He said the person didn’t want Helm to call him back, and Helm knew his grandson doesn’t drink.
“I said ‘I don’t think you are my grandson, and if you are, give me the name of your sister,’” Helm said. “That is when the line went dead.”