‘Grandparent scam’ reported in area

Published 6:46 pm Monday, April 19, 2010

Wesson’s Glen and Sue Roberts got a strange phone call sayingtheir grandson was in bad trouble and owed money to bad people, andthey left in the middle of the night to help him.

But it was all a lie, and they got scammed for $50.

“It was crazy for us to do this, but we thought our grandson was introuble,” Sue Roberts said. “I just wanted to get down there andcheck on him as soon as possible.”

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Late Tuesday night, the Robertses fell victim to a phone scam knownas the “grandparent scam” or “emergency scam,” and authorities areurging people to protect themselves against similar schemes in thefuture. The scam that appears to have originated in Canada is notwidespread in Mississippi, though it has been featured on severalnational TV news programs recently.

The scam preys on grandparents with a phone call alerting them agrandson is in some sort of medical or criminal emergency and needsmoney quickly, directing the grandparents on how or where to bringthe cash. Each rendition of the granny scam is a little different,with the scammer posing as, or saying he knows, thegrandchild.

For the Robertses, the scammer relied on late-night confusion andpanic to lure them from their beds in Wesson on a midnight run todrop off money at a vacant car wash in McComb. Roberts said shedidn’t know why her grandson, University of Memphis student JoshuaHolly, would be in McComb, but she was afraid for his life andfollowed the scammer’s instructions.

“When he called, he just kept saying, ‘You know who this is, youknow who this is,’ to my mother and talked them all the way toMcComb,” said the Robertses’ daughter, Connie Martin. “He told themthey were hiding at the Wal-Mart in McComb and once they droppedthe money off, the (bad guys) can get it. He told them exactlywhere to go and exactly where to put the money.”

Martin said the scammer told the Robertses he would follow themhome when everything was safe, but he never showed up. They calleda sleepy and bewildered Joshua Holly at 2:30 a.m., who had beenasleep in his bed in Memphis, Tenn., the whole night. The Robertsesreported the incident to the McComb Police DepartmentWednesday.

“It made me mad,” Roberts said. “For my grandchild, $50 is nothing.It really caught us off guard.”

Sgt. John Leuthauser, a crime scene analyst with MPD, said thereare currently no suspects in the Robertses’ case, admitting itwould be a difficult case because the scammer used a “throw-away”cell phone. It is unclear how the scammer got Glen Roberts’ cellphone number.

“This scam probably goes around all different parts of thecountry,” Leuthauser said. “There’s not a whole lot of it going on,but we have had a few reports on it. I’m not sure how people getthese numbers – maybe on the Internet or tampering with someone’smail, finding a phone bill.”

The Robertses might have been lucky to only lose $50 on thegrandparent scam, Leuthauser said.

“Sometimes this scam goes for thousands of dollars,” he said. “Isaw one on the news where a grandmother thought her grandchild wasstuck in England and needed money to get home, so she wired somemoney to England.”

Leuthauser said the best defense against the grandparent scam is tocontact the grandchild in question and ensure that child is OK. Herecommended attempting to arrange a face-to-face meeting with thegrandchild to make sure it’s not a scam. A lot can be learned bythe caller’s reaction to that suggestion.

“If you’re not sure and it seems suspicious, stop and think aboutit,” Leuthauser said. “If you have a gut feeling something’s wrong,don’t do it.”