SPARTANBURG, S.C. (WSPA) – Most people would do anything for their family, which is why one scam, in particular, just won’t go away: The Grandparent Scam.
Just last month, two Upstate sheriff’s departments warned that scammers stole more than $10,000 each from two victims.
Around that time, another Spartanburg grandmother got the very same call. Betty Chapman has 10 grandchildren, two great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandchild.
“I pick up the phone and this pitiful, pitiful little voice is saying, ‘Grandma, Grandma.’ My grandchildren would never call me grandma,” Betty said, mentioned that her grandchildren call her “Mimi.”
Most might hang up, but not Chapman. She described the call:
“Who is this?” Chapman asked.
“You’re granddaughter,” the caller said.
“Nikki?” Chapman asked.
“Yes,” the caller said.
“What’s wrong Nikki?” Chapman asked.
“I’m in jail,” the caller said.
“Huh?” Chapman said.
“I was in a car accident, a 3-car pileup, and it was my fault,” the caller said.
Though Chapman knew better, the thought of a grandchild in jail has caught thousands of grandparents off guard. The Federal Trade Commission logged 91,000 of these scams between 2015 and 2020, and that may only represent 10% of the actual victims.
The head of the Spartanburg County Sheriff’s Office Fraud Investigation Unit Sergeant Tony Brown said his office gets two to three reports like this a month.
“They thought their grandchild was in trouble in another country. I believe this one was Mexico. He got caught down there, had some drugs on him and put him in jail. Of course they sent money two or three times. ‘We need $2,000 for this, and then they called back, ‘We need $2,000 more for the lawyers fees.’ It’s a constant. As long as they send money, they are going to keep calling back and say I need more more more and come up with a different excuse,” said Sgt. Brown.
That victim lost $10,000.
The Spartanburg County Sheriff’s Office also warned to beware of what you post on social media. The scammers will often sift through those profiles to learn more about grandma or the grandkids so they can make the scam more effective.
As Chapman followed the scam, she learned it was a team effort. The second bad actor was the bogus attorney.
“The lawyer says, ‘This is Norman. I’m your granddaughter’s attorney.’
And I said, ‘Oh, ok.’
And he said, ‘Well, you know, she’s in quite a bit of trouble.’
I said, ‘Yes, I know, and I’m so sorry about that. What can I do to help her?’
‘Well, you can pay her bail.’
I said, ‘How much is her bail, Norman?’
He said ‘$10,000,'” Chapman explained.
Chapman said, being a southern Baptist, she won’t repeat exactly what she said next, but here’s the gist:
“I said, ‘Norman, do you think I’m stupid or I came into town on a load of turnups? I don’t think so, Norman.’ And he hung up,” Chapman explained.
We asked Chapman if she got a little satisfaction from that.
She said with a chuckle, “Absolutely, yes it did. And I said I think I’ll just call WSPA and I’ll report this.”
The FTC and local law enforcement agencies told 7NEWS they believe this scam is growing more frequent.
Here’s what you and your family members need to know:
- Law enforcement will never demand money over the phone.
- They don’t accept payment in the form of gift cards or a wire transfer.
- Unfortunately, gift cards and wire transfers are virtually untraceable, so victims rarely ever get their money back.
- Just because a phone number appears to be from police, doesn’t mean it is.
- Often, scammers will spoof the number.