Grandparents are special targets for phone scammers
Elizabeth Stern of Lake Oswego is blessed with 14 grandchildren.
But recently somebody tried to convince her she had 15. Their phone call went like this:
Caller: 'This is your grandson in Barcelona.'
ES: 'Which one?'
C: 'The oldest.'
C: 'Yes. I need you to send me some money, but don't call my parents. They'll be really mad at me.'
ES: 'You don't sound like Matthew. Not at all. I'll tell you what. Matthew is right in the kitchen with me.
'I advise you to get a decent job and don't scam people. Thank you for calling.'
Afterward, Stern was a bit indignant.
'I know I'm 78 years old,' she said. 'But I do have some marbles.'
Usually, phone scammers trying to trick a grandparent into sending them $1,500 to get out of a jam, usually jail, in a faraway place are not caught in such a perfect way. Still, most grandparents have enough marbles to smell out a phone scam, even without their actual grandchild right at their elbow.
However, phone scammers are nothing if not persistent. With today's phoned-up world they are calling more often than ever, and senior citizens are their biggest target. If one grandparent can't be fooled, there is always another and another and another. A phone scammer does not need a high batting average of gullible grandparents to be a success.
'They're really very good at it,' said Capt. Dale Jorgensen of the Lake Oswego Police Department. 'Even the grandparents of cops get calls. The grandparent scam has gone on for years, and there are different variations on it. It's not a crime to do (make the phone call). Anyone can call and say anything.'
'This is their job. This is how they make their living. If they can scam three people in one month they can make $3,500.'
Kyle Kavas, public relations manager of the Oregon Better Business Bureau, is an expert on scams of all kinds, and she recently gave a presentation at the Lake Oswego Adult Community Center on phone scams.
'Scammers target senior citizens because they're more trusting and more available,' Kavas said. 'Phone scams happen a lot more often now because there are a lot more cell phones and land lines.
'If they get one person, they've essentially won. The scammers are dealing with a generation that is generally trusting.'
'Growing up, I lived in a large home in California,' she said. 'No doors or windows were ever locked. Our car was never locked. Why would we do that? It was a generation of trusting souls. Our country has changed. It's another world.'
Stern herself has been targeted by many phone scammers over the last year and a half. One caller told her she had won $2 million. Of course, she had to send in a couple thousand dollars to seal the deal.
'I'm 78,' she said. 'Some people are very sharp at that age. Others have some confusion.'
Fortunately, there are many ways for senior citizens to deal with phone scammers, and one of the best is to call the police.
'We get 10 to 15 calls a year,' Jorgensen said. 'We respond to every one. We go to a person's home and walk them through what they should do. Scammers often think they can bully or intimidate older people into doing something they do not want to do.
'The number one thing is to never send money over the phone by wire unless it is legitimate. Number two, if you think something is not right, call the police. We will always help you in that situation.'
Kavas can offer senior citizens a number of methods and advice for handling phone scammers, such as registering on the National Do Not Call Registry, keeping track of phone calls, and being especially wary of callers who claim to need your Social Security or bank number.
Kavas added, 'They can also call the Better Business Bureau so we can look into the matter further.'