Scam alert: Grandmother hit with 'personalized' pitch

These days, telephone scam warnings are a dime a dozen, but St. Joseph County Police say a scam reported just yesterday is more like one in a million.

“In this particular one the degree of detail that these people had about their intended victim was a lot greater than what we usually see,” said Asst. Chief Bill Thompson.

At age 76, Karen is a grandmother who knows ‘phony baloney’ when she hears it. “I am very wise, I hang up that phone more than you can imagine, on everybody.”

But yesterday’s call didn’t come from just ‘anybody,’ Karen was convinced it came from a grandson that is Karen’s ‘everything.’

“By talking to this young man first and saying it was Christopher and calling me grandma, I just bought it in a heartbeat,” said Karen, who did not want to use her last name.

The caller claimed to be Christopher and added he may have sounded different because he was battling strep throat. “I mean there’s no doubt in my mind, the young guy sounded like Christopher,” said Karen. “It’s just so unbelievable to think that they’d stoop that low.”

“If you get the blind email from the Nigerian Prince, most folks don’t respond anymore,” said Asst. Chief Thompson. “But a targeted call using people’s first names, that’s something that’s going to get your attention.”

The call apparently came from the Dominican Republic. Christopher was allegedly there attending the funeral of a close friend—a friend who had participated in Christopher’s recent wedding.

Christopher had supposedly crashed a rental car and got into trouble with the police.

“Supposedly he was in jail and officer Chad was telling me where to send the money,” said Karen. “He says I have to go to CVS. He kept telling me that, and get a money bond and send it for $1,866.”

In the end, Karen did not wire the money as requested. Karen’s daughter just so happened to walk in while the phone call was in progress—the very daughter who was also the mother of the grandson in question.

The mother knew better and put an end to the scam attempt.

“It was so believable, I just can’t imagine the way they handled it, the whole thing, you would never expected a scam,” said Karen.

Police aren’t 100 percent sure how the scammers came to know so much about their intended victim, but the best guess now involves the mining of information from social media.

“I think that a lot of these places, a lot of these scammers are mining social media sites to get the kind of detail and then targeting an individual,” said Thompson. “That information is all out there for everyone to see. Not just your friends but also your potential enemies.”

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