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“Grandparent Scam” Pops Up Again

Eighty-two-year-old Jean Brandt of Ellison Bay became the target of a devious, yet common, scam when she received a strange phone call from someone claiming to be close to her.

“He said this is your oldest grandson, and I made the mistake of saying his name,” said Brandt. “He said he had a cold and might not sound like himself.”

Brandt said the man posing as her grandson went on to describe a strange set of circumstances that had led to him becoming stranded in a Mexican jail. He asked her if she could send the money he needed to bail himself out.

“He asked if anybody else was at the house and said he was hoping we could keep this just between us,” said Brandt. “I thought, this is time for me to hang up.”

Brandt is just the latest potential victim of what has come to be known as the “grandparent scam,” in which scammers call senior citizens and claim to be a relative who is in trouble and needs some quick cash.

“It’s another one of those scams that every so many months it pops up where somebody tries it again and people get taken in by it,” said Door County Sheriff Terry Vogel. “Most people just hang up on these people so we don’t even hear about it. We only hear about it when there’s a bad story where somebody’s paid a few hundred dollars.”

Thankfully, Brandt was smart enough to recognize that the man on the other end of the line was not her grandson, and the scammers didn’t get any money from her, although it wasn’t because of a lack of trying.

“They called back about four times that day,” said Brandt. “Then they called back the next day.”

Brandt said that the scammer’s story reminded her of a similar phone call a neighbor of hers had received about a friend from Milwaukee who had gotten stuck in Canada. That story turned out to be a fake as well.

After checking with her grandson’s mother and confirming that her grandson was okay, Brandt decided to catch the scammers in a lie when they called back the next day by asking them about relatives that didn’t exist.

“I asked ‘How’s Mary and the family?’ And he said, ‘Oh, they’re fine,’” said Brandt. “And then I asked, ‘Didn’t you call me yesterday?’ And he said yes, and I said, ‘Well, maybe you shouldn’t call me again.’”

Sheriff Vogel said Brandt did the right thing by contacting other relatives to confirm the story before agreeing to give out any money or personal information.

“Do some checking on it before you give any information at all,” said Vogel. “Just be so aware that there are so many scams out there. Anytime anyone’s asking for money or any personal information realize that in all likelihood this is going to be a scam.”

Vogel said the scammers usually try to elicit three or four hundred dollars from the seniors they target, and some in the county have paid out multiple times.

“Once [the scammers] find out who’s vulnerable,” said Vogel, “they try to target them again.”

Getting back money that’s been paid out is pretty near to impossible, said Vogel, both because it’s hard to track the calls back to their source and when it is possible they often originate from outside the U.S.

“I know we did track one to a coffee shop in Canada one time where there was just no way of tracking who was using the Internet at that coffee shop,” said Vogel. “A lot of this is on the national level, but I’m not aware of anybody who’s got any major investigations out on it. It’s something that’s out there and will be out there for a long time.”

While the scams will continue, Brandt is hoping that by telling her story she can help other seniors in the area to avoid being taken in.

“I don’t know if they get our phone numbers from AARP or where they get them but it always seems like it’s us old people,” said Brandt. “I just would hate to see some older citizen like myself fall for it.”