Elder Con

A friend (I’ll call him John) recently told me about a con that was run on his parents. The con artist called his parents home and pretended to be John. This was apparently done with a little social engineering: “Hello?” “Hi, Mom?” “Is this John?” “Yes, it’s John.” The caller excused the fact that he sounded different by saying that he had just been in a car crash, that he had been drinking at a bachelor party or something like that, and that he was now at the police station. He said he had not been able to reach his wife. He asked them to wire him some money.

Described coldly like that it doesn’t sound very plausible. But from John’s parent’s point of view, they got a call late at night, so they probably aren’t thinking completely straight, and their son is in trouble right now. You have to help your son; you don’t spend time thinking that your son might be scamming you, and you don’t think that somebody would claim to be your son when they are not. The con artist said he hadn’t been able to reach his wife, so they didn’t bother calling his house. They wired $3000 to a location in Toronto with a code word to pick it up. That money is gone.

The con artist, having succeed once, went back for a second try. He called again, saying he was now out of the police station, and needed more money to get the car fixed. This time he asked for $9000. My friend’s father dropped the money off at the wire transfer place, but on his way home realized that this didn’t sound right. He called my friend’s home, discovered the scam, and was able to get the $9000 back. The con artist made a third try a few days later, this time posing as an investigator for the money wiring company, asking for some financial details. No luck there either.

This kind of scan is particularly targeted at elderly people. As we get older we don’t think as quickly, but of course we always want to help our children. I assume that the con artist just calls numbers out of a phone book until they get a hit. On the web I found news article about the scam (my friend’s parents do not live in Tennessee).

To you, dear reader, this is just be a friend-of-a-friend story, but for me it’s just one link away. It does happen. Not only does it cost money, it makes my friend’s parents feel like idiots. You may want to mention this to your parents. The FBI has a web page listing cons aimed at elderly people, although it doesn’t seem to mention this particular one.

1 Comment »

  1. Simetrical said,

    April 30, 2010 @ 12:23 pm

    This is a fairly standard scam, unfortunately. Snopes has a page on it:

    http://www.snopes.com/fraud/distress/family.asp

    But even having known about it and similar scams for years – reading Snopes’ RSS feed is a good way to understand common types of scams – I’m not sure I wouldn’t fall for it if the circumstances were right.

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