Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

May 27, 2013

On the line: Don't get caught by these phone scammers

By Michele DeLuca michele.deluca@lockportjournal.com
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — "Grandma!  It's your oldest grandson and I need your help!"

That's what Gloria Lariccia heard when she picked up her phone this past week — the frantic voice of a boy who said he was her oldest grandson.

The oddest part was that she only has one grandson. And he always calls her "Nonnie." Still, there was such urgency in his tone, she had to make sure that her 16-year-old grandson was OK. So she listened to his story.

The yarn the boy spun was certainly upsetting. He was in Florida for a funeral with his friends. He drank too much and landed in jail, so he needed bail money. He begged her repeatedly not to tell his parents. He wanted to hand the phone to "his lawyer," but she refused to speak to the attorney.

Now Lariccia is a retired high school substitute teacher. In her 20 years at Niagara-Wheatfield she'd seen more than a few pranks. So pretty quickly she figured out she was being scammed.

She told the caller she would not speak to his attorney, but on the slim chance it was her grandson, she insisted he call his parents.  

That was when the caller hung up on her.

"It was very cleverly done," she said. 

Rebecca Brooks, director of the John Duke Senior Center, said that the "grandchild" scam has been around for years. A variation of it is when someone calls from a foreign country and needs help cashing a check, and asks the person to wire a portion of the proceeds. The check is always returned to the bank and the victim is charged for the amount.

"We try our best to make our seniors aware of all the scams in the area, unfortunately there are quite a few of them," Brooks said Friday.

"It's sad because the seniors feel some how they've done something wrong when they've been scammed," she added, "but these people are very good at what they do." 

There are a couple other scams currently being perpetrated upon Niagara's senior population, she added.

"There are companies going around switching peoples utilities," she explained, adding some say they are from the federal government and demand to see a utility bill. "All they do is look at your bill and they automatically switch you over to the utility company they're working for which turns out to be much more expensive. It costs thousands to switch back." 

Another scam, she said, is a call from a medical alert device company which explains that a family member has purchased an alert device for the elder and they insist on setting up an in-home appointment or get "billing information." 

State Attorney General Erie Schneiderman issued a warning this week about the medical alert robo-calling scam. The scammers seem to be operating from a 315 area code in Syracuse. 

"Unfortunately, the elderly are disaproportionately targeted by scam artists and are often the victim of fraud and abuse," he said. His office provides "Smart Senior Presentations," and has a booklet available to those who call his Consumer Helpline at 800-771-7755.

"We tell people, whether someone's at your door or on your phone, don't give out any information.  If they show a badge, call the police department and ask them for assistance," she said.

"We have permission from police department," she added. "If (suspicious) people from electric company come on your property, call the police. They will be arrested."

The attorney general has a help line that seniors can also call before doing business with anyone. That number is (800) 771-7755.

REPORT SCAMS Those who feel they may have been the victim of a scam or who wish to book a "Smart Seniors" presentation, can call the New York State Attorney General's Hotline at 800-771-7755.