Many grandparents wouldn’t think twice about helping out a grandchild in need of money if they have the opportunity.
However, some seniors in St. Joseph have gotten calls claiming a family member is in worse trouble than they could have imagined, Rhonda Blaylock, co-owner of the shipping center Goin’ Postal, said.
“We have elders coming in who are getting a phone call saying their grandchild was in an accident in another country — we’ve heard Puerto Rico twice — they’ve been in the hospital; they’re now in jail and they need money to get out. They need you to send the money,” Blaylock said.
In reality, the grandchild in question is neither in another country nor in jail. Instead, criminals are pretending to be a relative to coerce someone into sending cash via mail. Detective Chase Cotter with the St. Joseph Police Department said today’s technology makes it easier than ever for criminals to fool people into believing they’re someone they’re not.
“I have heard of several cases of people doing some homework before they call someone because there’s a lot of information on the internet,” Cotter said. “They may know the name of someone’s family member or their last address or where they work.”
Blaylock does her best to protect her customers from these scams and was able to stop one client from sending $8,000 — but another lady has lost $200,000.
“It’s just sad because they’re taking them for thousands and thousands of dollars,” she said. “One gentleman was being threatened: ‘If you don’t get this in the mail, things are going to happen,’ and that was sad because he lives by himself.”
For many victims, the money they sent is lost forever as these types of scam are difficult to investigate.
“All we have to go on is a phone number, and a lot of the time phone numbers are spoofed to where it might look like I call from a different number I actually am, so we’re not left with much of a paper trail, and a lot of the scams are out of the country, so we can’t even investigate them on a local level,” Cotter said.
To not fall into the trap, to begin with, Blaylock said there are several red flags she watches out for when talking to her customers.
“If we see an elder come in and they’re saying, ‘I need to overnight this, I need to get it there as fast as possible,’ I ask ‘Do you know this person personally?’ and that’s how we find out,” Blaylock said.
Other red flags include the caller asking the victim to not tell anyone about the payment, asking to hide the money between magazine pages and a generally secretive attitude. Blaylock has an easy rule of thumb regarding these kinds of requests.
“Never, never, never send cash,” she said. “If they ask for cash there’s something wrong. If they’re telling you to hide it in a book or something, never send cash.”
So far, Blaylock has only come across elderly people being targeted. She thinks especially seniors who are not in steady contact with their family are at risk.
“If a grandson calls them up saying, ‘I’m in trouble, don’t tell mom or dad,’ it would sound perfectly normal because you haven’t heard from anyone in two or three weeks,” she said.
The best strategy to protect elderly family members is to regularly check in with them and always call the person who claims to need money at a trusted phone number when asked for cash on the phone.