CRAFTSBURY – Roy Darling says his elderly mother was nearly scammed out of close to $3,000. However, the woman checked things out before falling victim to a crime.
Darling said his mother received a call Monday from someone identifying himself as Eli Thompson from the Border Patrol. The caller said that her grandson was in a car with three other individuals, one of whom was carrying drugs, and was trying to enter the United States from Canada.
“He assured her it wasn’t her grandson (carrying drugs), but the way it worked that everyone in the car was arrested and she was to wire $2,735 through Western Union to bail him out, otherwise he’d be in jail for three months.”
Darling said the man put someone on the phone who identified himself as her grandson.
His mother didn’t recognize the voice and the man told her not to tell anyone as things would be worse.
When Roy’s mother asked who was on the other end of the phone, the person replied, “I am your beautiful grandson.”
Darling's mother gave the name of one of her grandchildren and the person responded with, “Yes.”
“She gave him a name, otherwise he may not have had a name,” said Darling. “He went on to say, don’t tell dad, don’t tell anyone.”
Thompson then came back on the phone and told Darling’s mother the location of two Western Union Agents. The destination of the money, said Darling, was Lima Peru, however, that doesn’t mean that’s where the caller was. Thompson gave his mother a toll free number to call once she sent the money.
“She didn’t know what to do,” said Darling. “She thought her grandson was in jail.”
Fortunately, Darling’s niece was with his mother at the time and urged her to call her son. When his mother finally called him, Darling told his mother that he was with his son all weekend and was at work. Darling told his mother to go about her business and he would call his son and have him call her.
Meanwhile, Darling called the Vermont State Police and the Orleans County Sheriff's Department. Darling said the dispatcher at the sheriff’s department told him there is no Thompson at the barracks.
Darling then called the toll free number provided by Thompson and someone answered with, "Derby State Police." Surprised, Darling asked to be put through to Thompson.
“I went a along with it for a while,” said Darling. After a few minutes, Darling told the person on the other end of the phone to back off and not to mess with his family. “He hung up on me. The way I talked to him, if he were a sergeant, I’d be in jail right now.”
Darling called his mother and told her to stop answering the phone and a police officer would never tell her not to speak to anyone else about the problem.
It is unknown where the caller was from.
The message Darling sends to the public is simple: “You get a call from somebody who claims these observed things, don’t pay attention to it. You call your family member and find out. That’s important. We need to get this thing stopped.”
“The scam is working for them,” said Darling. “It’s working well enough that they are well organized. They target older people who don’t know the details.”
Darling said the people he called did not have any type of accent, but a man who identified himself as Thompson had a deep voice.
Darling isn’t the first person to receive this call, coined online as “The Grandparents Scam.” According to scambusters.org, the caller typically tells the elderly person that their grandchild had a brush with the law, got into an accident, or has overdue rent and needs money to remedy the situation.
Other sites report that caller is very persuasive. According to About.com, calls usually originate in Canada, Puerto Rico and China. The website says many times, the caller is using a prepaid cell phone that can't be traced. However, some scammers have been caught and charged.
This reporter called the phone number provided to Darling's mother and spoke with a man who identified himself as being with the Woolrich or Woolridge Police Department in Canada. He did not give a province and, when pressed, refused to talk to the reporter.
Deputy Dan Locke of the Orleans County Sheriff Department advises anyone who receives such calls to contact other family members and local authorities.
Sgt. Michael Lecourse of the State Police in Derby said anyone who receives such calls should not give out any personal information, account information and to call the state police. He also said one of the first red flags is when someone asks the would-be victim to send money via Western Union. Lecourse said there is no way to track where Western Union Money is collected. It is difficult to prosecute someone, especially if it originates out of the country, Lecourse said.
"Lots of time they are very confrontational, very threatening and they will call back several times," said Lecourse. Lecourse also stressed not to send money until the person absolutely knows its legitimate.