Evelyn Partridge, 85, imagined her grandson sitting in jail with a broken nose and facing a charge of driving while intoxicated. His lawyer told her he could get him out if she could pay.
A Pilot Point resident for the last two years, Partridge later determined she had been targeted for an imposter scam.
“It was very traumatic,” she said.
The “grandparent scam” involves someone impersonating a victim’s friend or family member in an emergency and asking for money to be sent right away. The Federal Trade Commission tracks reports of family and friend imposter scams. In 2018, losses reached more than $41 million, according to an FTC news release.
Partridge received the “grandparent scam” call last week. She said it was about 9 a.m. on Wednesday and she heard a man’s voice through the static of a bad connection calling her “grandma.” Partridge took the bait and addressed the voice as Shane, one of her grandsons.
The man told Partridge he was in jail after he wrecked a car and was found with a blood-alcohol level exceeding the legal limit. He told her he needed money for bail and that he could pay her back right away. He told her not to tell anybody.
Scammers play on the emotions of victims with the goal of getting them to send money before they realize they have been scammed, according to an FTC fact page.
“To make their story seem legitimate, they may involve another crook who claims to be an authority figure, like a lawyer or police officer,” the fact page states.
The man claiming to be Partridge’s grandson told her she would receive another call from his lawyer. He had her write down a case number.
The man claiming to be her grandson’s lawyer asked if she could pay for her grandson’s bail. She had told the previous caller that she didn’t have money, but she asked how much it would be. The man hung up on her.
Uneasy, Partridge confided in her son-in-law about the calls. When he dialed the number associated with them, the line was no longer in service. Not realizing the calls had been a scam, Partridge’s son-in-law told his wife, Jo Rosebrock, that her son Shane was in jail.
Rosebrock’s first thought was for her daughter-in-law who is fighting cancer. She called Shane and found that he had been at work all morning. That’s when she realized the calls her mother received were from scammers.
“It makes me so mad,” Rosebrock said. “These people pick on widows and seniors.”
Out visiting a friend when Rosebrock confirmed that Shane was not in jail, Partridge shouted when she heard the news.
“Praise the Lord,” she said.
Joyce Wood, a longtime Pilot Point resident, heard her friend’s story and encouraged her to share it in the hope that warning others will prevent them from falling victim.
“Let’s make something good out of this,” Wood said.
Wood had previously fallen victim to a tech support scam involving someone asking her to send money to unlock her computer. The tech support scam is one of five types of imposter scams tracked by the FTC. In all, consumers reported losing nearly $488 million to all types of imposter scams in 2018.
Although the number of reports of friend and family imposter scams have remained steady in the last five years, reports of government imposter scams have increased dramatically. In May alone, the FTC received more than 46,000 complaints of scammers claiming to be from the Social Security Administration, the Internal Revenue Service or another government entity.
“If you get a call out of the blue from someone claiming to be from a government agency like the Social Security Administration or IRS asking you for personal information or money, it’s a scam,” said Andrew Smith, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, in a news release.