Scammer imitating grandson bilks pair out of $16K

Ottawa County

ZEELAND, Mich. (WOOD) — Police are putting out the warning about a phone scam that separated a Zeeland couple from more than $16,000.

It appears whoever did it was a pro. Using charm and information likely gathered off social media, the scammer convinced the people in their 80s that they were helping their grandson out of a jam.

“The audacity is just overwhelming,” said Zeeland Officer Dave Thompson, who contacted 24 Hour News 8 to get the word out.

On Thursday, the elderly pair received a call from a person who sounded like their grandson, saying he was in trouble in Miami.

“He had hit a pregnant female crossing the crosswalk and that she was in critical condition,” Thompson said.

Then a man claiming to be an attorney for the grandson and the hospital told the grandparents that he was being charged with a felony. They asked for bond and money for the hospital in the amount of $11,250.

“He asked that it be sent overnight through FedEx,” Thompson said.

He instructed the pair to wrap it up with paper and duct tape and put it in a manila envelope, then told them how to get around FedEx’s rule against shipping paper money.

“When they get confronted by the people at FedEx, (they were told) to say that it’s documents,” Thompson said.

They were so concerned for their grandson and so convinced by the scammer that even after the FedEx worker warned them that sending money could be part of scam, they sent it anyway.

The scammer picked up the money and then called asked for his attorney’s fees in the form of five $1,000 gift cards from Home Depot and instructed them again how to avoid detection.

“‘If anybody asks you what this is for, it’s for house repairs.’ The clerk at Home Depot literally asked them, ‘Hey, is this what it’s for? Because we had some scams,'” Thompson said. “He had some sort of a response, he had anticipated each one of their questions to just pull ’em along, pull ’em along, pull ’em along until he got what he wanted.”

The scammer called again and asked for the card numbers and the PINs and then told them to destroy the cards and receipts.

“The first thing that came to mind for me was Facebook because there’s so much information that so many people put on Facebook,” Thompson said.

Zeeland police have contacted Miami Police Fraud Department, the Postal Inspector and other federal authorities. Still, it’s unlikely the money will return to its owners, police say, because cash is hard to track.

The daughter of the victims and mother of the grandson said the incident has shattered the couple’s sense of security.

“Initially, they probably felt more embarrassed that they fell for it. It was very confusing for them. They were scared in the beginning. It was more devastating, I would think, than even angering,” the daughter said.

She said the scammers had specific details she believes came from the internet.

It is likely the scammer also targeted people who use landlines, who are more likely to be older.

“I have asked them not to pick up the phone and that’s pretty sad,” the daughter said. “Somehow the message just has to get out there that these people need to be stopped and to educate older people to just be so careful.”

Police say that anytime you’re asked to send money over the phone from someone you don’t know, don’t take the word of the person on the other end of the line without doing research.

The AARP has tips online on how to watch out for fraud. You can also report scams to the Federal Trade Commission online.

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