KELOWNA – A 90-year-old grandmother was the target of an organized scam designed to pressure her into wiring almost $2,000 to get her grandson out of jail.
The grandmother, who asked to remain anononymous, says a man called her at 11:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 6 and pretended to be her grandson.
“I was already asleep,” she says. “I had an eye appointment first thing in the morning so I thought I would go to bed early then the phone rang and it was this man and he said he was (my grandson).”
In what she describes as a “shaky, low voice” the imposter said he was in an accident while texting and was being held by police. He told her he didn’t want his parents to find out yet and was only allowed to call one family member.
After a brief conversation, he passed the phone to a man he said was his lawyer, who told her to wire $1,900 to a Vladimir Poljicak via Western Union.
“He told me to write the name down very carefully and to go to my bank the next morning, take out cash and then send the money to the Dominican Republic,” she says. “The thing they specified is that I wasn’t to tell anybody about this.”
She says the conversation left her understandably upset, not least of all because her grandson may be in trouble, but that she now had to keep it a secret from the rest of the family.
“I took me a long time to get to sleep,” she says. “The first thing I thought of this morning is this thing hanging over my head and there’d be a phone call at 8 o’clock.”
The phone rang once again at 8 a.m. Friday morning and it was the same man who claimed to be the lawyer. He again repeated the transfer instructions but by this time she was starting to get suspicious and decided to call her grandson to confirm.
The man called a third time at 10 a.m. and that’s when she let him know she knew it was a scam.
“I asked him his name again and when he told me I suggested he add 'scam artist' to his name and he hung up.”
Const. Kris Clark of the Kelowna RCMP says instances of similar cold-call scams have been popping up recently.
It could be family members in trouble, lawyers calling on behalf of family members in trouble or companies calling to collect overdue bill payments. He says the list goes on and one.
“Although different circumstances have been provided in many of the calls, the common theme is a caller claiming to be a person you know, for a person you know, or from a company you deal with," he tells Infonews.ca. "The reality is, the caller isn't who they claim to be, and they are only calling you to pressure you into giving them money before you have time to think about what is happening.”
He says calls like these can be defeated with a little due diligence. Verify the company name, address and phone number by looking it up in a phone book or on the computer.
If the person calling claims to be your friend or family, regardless of how much they seem to know, always follow up by contacting that person directly with a verified number before taking any other action.
"Sending money by a wire service, or purchasing pre-paid credit cards are not the typical ways to pay for bills or legal fees, but are commonly used by scammers in order to protect their anonymity," Clark says.
Those who feel they may be a target for online scammers should contact their local police and then report the fraud to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.
To contact the reporter for this story, email Adam Proskiw at email@example.com or call 250-718-0428. To contact the editor, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 250-718-2724.