To report a scam
Canadian Antifraud call center 1-888-495-8501
Marco Island Police Department 389-5050.
Collier County Sheriff’s Office: e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 793-9300.
Lee County Sheriff’s Office 477-1242
It’s a grandparent’s worst nightmare.
A crying grandchild calls on the phone, pleading for help.
The heartstrings go out and the wallets open.
Exactly like the thief on the other end of the line planned.
Marco Island Police Department received several reports in the past few days of a victim being telephoned by a suspect stating they are their grandchild, said City Public Information Coordinator Lisa Douglass in a prepared release. The suspect would then say they were arrested in Canada and needed bail money wired using Western Union. The suspect would call later to get the wire transfer number.
“Preying on the emotions of a grandparent is reprehensible,” said Marco Police Chief Thom Carr.
Reports of such phone calls weren’t immediately available on Marco Island, but many have been documented in Lee County and across the country.
“There isn’t any report because no one was a victim (in Marco),” Carr wrote in an e-mail on Wednesday. “We received a phone call warning us of the scam that is apparently being tried all over the country. To this date, we do not know of any losses on Marco.”
There was a spike this March in what law enforcement officials are calling the “grandparent scam”, and reports became increasingly prevalent since January, said Lee County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Stacey Payne, of the crime prevention unit.
Unfortunately, the victims often are too embarrassed to share their stories, she said.
They are also scared of repercussions, such as their kids deciding they are no longer able to handle their own finances as losses tend to be anywhere from $3,000 to $30,000, Payne said.
In another scheme, the caller says he or she has been in a car accident and needs money to repair the car.
It’s helpful for victims to report their stories, Payne said, and get the word out to prevent future victims.
Catching suspected crooks is difficult, Payne said.
First, identifying that a crime was committed is a challenge. Reports are not taken on these, local law enforcement agencies reported.
“It’s not a criminal issue at this point,” Payne said. “The closest you could really come to that is theft by deception. They are being deceived. They are losing their money.”
Criminal charges of exploiting the elderly are difficult, she added, because, thus far, the victims are competent and coherent.
“They fell victim to someone’s really good, but horrible scam,” Payne said.
The swindlers disguise their voices by crying, coughing or by being frantically upset.
By using the wire transfer number to get the cash, the con artists can say they’re receiving the money in New York, but use that number to get the money in a Western Union located in Paris or anywhere in the world.
If a scam can be identified by local law enforcement, information is sent to the U.S. Secret Service, and in the case of these recent Canadian calls, the Canadian antifraud center is working with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and U.S. government, Payne said.
Because phone numbers can be hijacked, it’s important to not answer the phone if you don’t recognize the number, even if it’s a local number, Payne advised.
“If you hear ‘wire money’ or ‘MoneyGram,’ bells, whistles and rockets should be going off as a warning,” she said.