District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis is warning San Diegans about a scam targeting the elderly, called the "Grandma Scam." It's not a new scam, in fact law enforcement has been aware of it for years. But since the beginning of the year there have been an increase of reports of an imposter posing as a grandchild in trouble in a foreign country and in need of cash. Recently a Carlsbad grandmother was victimized and wired $120,000 to an account in China, Dumanis said.
In the "Grandma Scam,'' a caller pretends to be a grandchild in trouble in a foreign country who needs money immediately. The caller often says he or she has been arrested, was in a car accident or had some type of medical emergency. "The scam is effective, because it catches seniors off guard and tugs at their heartstrings,'' Dumanis said. The caller always insists that the grandparent not tell anyone about the money transfer, which is one of the red flags, authorities said. Dumanis said the con artists get names and telephone numbers in a variety of ways, including Facebook.
Anna, an 82-year-old old woman from Mira Mesa, said she was victimized by a man who claimed to be her grandson. The caller said he was in a Mexican jail and needed money for bail. She wired $2,900 via Western Union before she realized she had been duped. "I think I have learned from the experience not to trust everybody who calls, to be cautious about being exposed to bad people,'' the woman said, "because after it's all done, then you feel so stupid.''
Paul Greenwood, a nationally recognized elder abuse prosecutor, said it's impossible to say how many victims are out there because the majority don't file police reports. "They are too embarrassed and would rather lose the money than run the risk of their family finding out,'' Greenwood said. "Because the suspects are in another country, it's hard to track them down, let alone prosecute these telephone con artists.'' Authorities said the way to fight back is to tell friends and family members about the scam, and instruct them to be suspicious of anyone who calls unexpectedly and wants them to wire money.
In addition to the "Grandma Scam," the Carlsbad Police Department is asking community members to come forward if they have been victimized by a Hispanic male suspect who knocks on the door of elderly residents’ homes. According to a police press release, , "he claims to be a relative of the resident’s gardener or housekeeper, and forces his way into the home. He claims to need cash to repair his vehicle, specifically the water pump. He intimidates the victims in order to obtain the cash."
At least five victims have come forward so far.
Any community member who has been the victim of a similar crime is asked to contact the following detectives:
Carlsbad residents - Detective Darbie Ernst at 760-931-2160
Oceanside residents - Detective Marc Kalb 760-435-4743
CNS contributed to this report