CAPITOLA — Preying on an 82-year-old woman’s fears that a beloved grandchild is in trouble, a couple of con artists managed to bilk $3,000 from a Capitola woman last month in an elaborate scam that involved numerous telephone calls from a disposable Canadian cell phone.
“I call it the foreign grandson in jail scam,” said Robin Gysin, consumer affairs coordinator for the Santa Cruz County District Attorney’s Consumer Affairs Unit.
The con has been around for several years and has affected numerous seniors throughout the country. About six months ago, a Scotts Valley couple wired about $20,000 to a foreign account to save their grandchild — who was not in trouble at all.
“They milked it. They called repeatedly. It was very, very sad,” Gysin said.
Unfortunately, these kind of international wire transfers are virtually impossible to track, Gysin said.
“I think it’s very common. Not as common as you-have-won the Australian or Irish or Spanish lottery, but it comes in a close second or third,” she said.
The Consumer Affairs Unit fields a couple telephone calls each month from Santa Cruz County residents who report similar suspicious calls in which a hysterical stranger calls on the phone claiming to be a grandson or granddaughter in need of immediate bail money to avoid being detained in a foreign country.
Often the calls come in the middle of the night. Always there is a short time period before money must be wired and an
admonishment to not let anyone know because it would dangerously slow the bureaucratic process. Similar scams claim the grandchild is traveling in Canada or Europe and just had a backpack stolen or a grandchild was in an accident and needs immediate funds.
It’s been suggested victims are new widows or widowers whose names appear as survivors in obituary notices, but Gysin said there’s no way to know how people are selected. Some victims are in care homes or in assisted living facilities. In the Capitola case, the women is a recent widower, who hadn’t seen her granddaughter since the holidays.
The alleged Canadian officer was friendly and helpful and gave explicit directions on how to wire the money quickly without slowing the process and risk a longer jail term for the granddaughter.
“She felt like she’d done the right thing,” said Michael Logue, the son of the bilked Capitola woman.
His mother remembered giving his daughter a letter years ago offering help if she was ever in trouble.
When Logue, a Soquel resident, found out the next day about the strange calls his mother had received, he wondered for a moment if his daughter had indeed skipped classes at San Francisco State University for a road trip and actually been arrested in Canada.
It’s ironic that in a day of enhanced connections through various social media, sometimes we don’t know what’s going on with the people closest to us, Logue said.
“I have 500 friends online yet I can entertain the possibility that my daughter blew off her semester to go up to Niagara Falls with 2 or 3 ounces of pot to cross the border.”
Thursday morning a Santa Cruz resident called Gysin at the Consumer Affairs Unit to see if he could possibly have won the Jamaican lottery. He had been asked to wire $500 to cover the transfer of $2.2 million. Gysin, who receives more than 30 reports of suspicious international lottery calls each month, told him it was a hoax but, she said, he kept asking if she could verify it. He just wanted to be sure, Gysin said.
To report suspicious calls or similar scams, contact Robin Gysin, consumer affairs coordinator, 454-2050.
Article first appeared here.