Dumanis puts spotlight on 'Grandma Scam'

City News Service

District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis warned San Diegans Wednesday about a scam targeting the elderly, in which an imposter poses as a grandchild in trouble in a foreign country and in need of cash.

Since the first of the year, the District Attorney's Victim Assistance Division has noticed

an uptick in crime reports involving elderly citizens targeted by criminals using the so-called "Grandma Scam,'' Dumanis said.

"It's clear this heartless scam is not going away,'' Dumanis said. "As part of World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, our office is again warning seniors not to be fooled by these con artists and others who would steal their money.''

Law enforcement has been aware of the "Grandma Scam'' for years, but its popularity with criminals sees a resurgence from time to time.

In the past two years, at least 25 seniors fell victim to the scam and lost a total of $141,482, according to crime reports from the San Diego County Sheriff's Department.

In one recent case, 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, especially to Canada or Mexico.

   
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