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'Grandparent' scammers active despite repeated warnings from feds, watchdogs

Published: Friday, Aug. 1 2014 6:45 p.m. MDT

Updated: Monday, Aug. 4 2014 6:26 a.m. MDT

The FBI and consumer watchdogs have issued repeated warnings about the “grandparent scam” — where an impostor grandchild calls and asks for money during a supposed emergency — but the scammers aren’t giving up.

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SALT LAKE CITY — The FBI and consumer watchdogs have issued repeated warnings about the “grandparent scam” — where an impostor grandchild calls and asks for money during a supposed emergency — but the scammers aren’t giving up, and they’re trying to victimize Utah’s elderly.

“I think if I’d had $2,000 in my pocket and he was standing right there by me, I’d had given it to him,” Terry Allen said of his encounter with a would-be scammer who claimed to be his grandson.

The caller claimed he was in California because a friend had died, and he ran into some unexpected drama during a cab ride — drugs uncovered by police in the trunk of the cab, Allen said.

While the impostor grandson claimed in the call that the drugs were not his, he said police wanted to detain him in jail and he needed bail money fast.

The phone went dead when Allen said he needed a couple days to get money out of his retirement account.

He soon called his real grandson, Andy Allen, a painter, and learned Allen was busy with work in Salt Lake City.

“First thing he says is, ‘I’ve got money for you, and I go, ‘You don’t owe me any money,’” Andy Allen recalled. “I had to tell him probably five times that he didn’t owe me any money, and he still couldn’t believe it.”

The state’s top watchdog, Utah Department of Commerce Executive Director Francine Giani, said her father was nearly duped by a similar scam.

Giani said it’s not known how a particular group of scammers becomes adept at identifying potential elderly targets.

She noted that scammers have a number of potential resources at their disposal — including marketing lists, phone lists, simple directory websites, social media and even obituaries.

Giani said do not take the bait on the initial call — even if the person seems to be a relative.

“Contact your child, or your grandchild — you call them — and ask where is ‘little Johnny,’” she advised.

Terry Allen was tricked for a moment but ultimately followed the right fact-checking steps by calling his son and grandson.

“Next time something like that comes up, I’ll be sure I know who I’m talking to and it’s all on the up-and-up,” Terry Allen said. “So I’m glad for it happening because of that.”

Email: aadams@deseretnews.com

Twitter: AndrewAdamsKSL

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