‘Grandson’ scam robs victims of combined $16,000

Two state police barracks are reporting Centre County grandparents have been victimized by very similar telephone scams.

Around 1:30 p.m. on Jan. 19, Samuel and Shirley Gates, of Howard, got a call from a man claiming to be their grandson. He said he was in a crash and had injured someone else. He needed $6,000 to pay his attorney.

He didn’t want cash or a check, and didn’t want the money sent through Western Union. He wanted the money in Wal-Mart and Target gift cards.

About 20 hours later, it happened again.

It was 9:50 a.m. Friday when an 80-year-old Philipsburg grandma got a similar call. This “grandson” said he was being held by police and needed $10,000 in Target gift cards to be released.

Philipsburg state police said the woman bought the cards and promptly turned over the information on the phone to the person she thought was her grandson.

“The actor(s) spent all of the money on the gift cards and the victim wasn’t reimbursed for the money she had given to the unknown actor(s),” police said in a press release.

Investigations into both cases are ongoing.

According to Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller, it’s just a variation on a scam that has been used for a long time.

“People should remember that no reputable lawyer or bail agency would ever ask for money in the form of gift cards, so that is a clear sign it is a scam,” she said.

The solution, Parks Miller said, is recognizing it for what it is and making sure the elderly are aware of the danger.

“We need to talk about this with our elderly friends and make them aware,” she said. “I would also hope that with this scam going around that shop owners and employees might simply mention this scam to older persons who are buying unusually high amounts of gift cards, especially at strange places like Dairy Queen or Game Stop, etc. This could help an unknowing participant in a scam realize it before it is too late for them.”

Other scams in the area have used gift cards, such as Green Dot prepaid debit cards and even iTunes gift cards. Some have used the grandparent angle while others have insisted the victim had outstanding warrants or IRS debt. In early January, the Centre County Sheriff’s Department issued a warning after the agency’s name was being used by scammers.

“We all need to look out for our neighbor because these crimes are very hard to prove and unfortunately often there is no recourse for victims,” Parks Miller said.

Lori Falce: 814-235-3910, @LoriFalce