CALGARY — When 86-year-old Mabel Fielding heard her grandson was in trouble, she didn’t stop to think.
She answered the phone to the greeting, “Hi, Grandma,” and automatically pictured her grandson as she listened to his story of a wedding in Montreal, a driving infraction and a need for help.
“I should have had questions right away as to which grandchild it was, but I wasn’t thinking straight,” she said from her home in Hanna, Alta.
“I was worried he was down there and he was in jail and he needed money to get out.”
Police in Alberta say scammers are increasingly targeting seniors and their love for their grandchildren.
The scammers pretend to be facing a crisis. They call seniors and plead for help, asking that money be provided as soon as possible.
“They ask them to wire the money, and they wire the money, and then of course it’s gone,” said Const. Deanna Schmaltz of the Edmonton RCMP commercial crimes section.
Schmaltz said such callers will often pretend to be embarrassed by their predicament and beg the grandparent not to tell anyone else what has happened.
They’ll pretend the phone line is bad to avoid answering questions, or will pose as a lawyer representing a grandchild so that specific questions can’t be asked.
Schmaltz says an Alberta phone fraud group has reports of nine such scams being tried in the first three months of this year.
Fielding said the caller she thought was her grandson asked her to send along $4,900. Worried he’d have to miss work, she agreed.
When she got to the bank to ask how to wire money, a teller suggested she might be the victim of a scam.
Fielding headed home to get the phone number off her caller ID and arrived to find the same Montreal-based number ringing. She answered and the man demanded to know when she would send the money.
“I just said, ’I’m in a hurry. I can’t talk now. I’m on my way to the RCMP,’ and bang went the receiver,” she laughed.
Schmaltz said often seniors will panic when they hear that their grandchildren could be in need and don’t sit down to think the call through.
They fall for it “because they’re good people and they’re trying to help. What happens is it’s the pressure of the situation that compels them to act perhaps a little quicker than normally.”
Schmaltz said people should sit down with older family members and explain the scam. People should always ask personal questions of any callers claiming to be family, and should consult with other relatives before sending money anywhere.
Fielding said a lot of what the man posing as her grandson said made sense. Her grandson works as a wedding photographer, so she wasn’t suspicious that he would be calling after a wedding in Montreal. His parents were out of town at the time, so she wasn’t surprised that she would get the call.
But she said there were also a lot of red flags. The caller wouldn’t have been sent to jail for simply driving the wrong way on a one-way street, she now realizes. The blood alcohol amount cited by the caller would also have been enough to kill someone.
“They had a whole story cooked up ahead of time. And you see with older people, our cogs are getting rusty upstairs. We don’t think as fast.”
She said she hopes her story helps keep other seniors, some of whom may be on a fixed budget, from losing their money.
“It’s taught me a good lesson, because there’s so many questions that I realized I should have been asking.”