A Holmdel grandmother wired $2941 to someone posing as her grandson in crisis, and Holmdel Police are warning others not to fall prey to the same scam.
"You should always try to contact a police officer and nip it in the bud," said Holmdel Detective Louis Torres. The "granny scam" keeps circulating, despite police attempts to warn people from falling victim to it.
The 76-year old Holmdel woman called police when she realized she had been fooled on Friday, May 11. She recounted to Det. Torres how it began with a phone call at 9:15 a.m. from someone who identified himself as her grandson, using his actual first name. The "grandson" said he was with his friend "David" at the friend's family's time share in Ecuador.
The person told a story that he had gone into town and waved down a car which he thought was a taxi, but it turned out not to be as it was instead "some strange guy." The police stopped the vehicle and found marijuana in it. He was now under arrest and needed bail money wired to him at the American Embassy.
The "grandson" begged the grandmother not to call his parents, and handed the phone to someone he said worked for the embassy. A male voice confirmed the account. He told the grandmother to go to the Holmdel A&P and use the Western Union service there.
The grandmother was given the name of a recipient in Quito, Ecuador, and an 877 number to call back after making the transaction.
The grandmother said she tried to call her son but was unable to reach him. Worried for her grandson, she went to the A&P and made out a transfer order in the amount of $2,800, which incurred a fee of $141. She used her debit card.
She returned home and called the 877 number, and gave the "embassy representative" a money transfer control number. She was told the money would be used as bail for her grandson.
Later that day, the grandmother reacher her son, and learned that her grandson was not in Ecuador at all. She had been scammed.
At 2:15 p.m., the phone rang again. The grandmother, infuriated, began yelling at the callers. She said they laughed at her, and then hung up.
"These people really disturb me because they called her back and laughed at her," said Torres.
In his investigation, Torres determined the two calls came from Escondito, California. Attempts to return call the two numbers on the Caller ID were unsuccessful. The 760 area code number said "unable to complete call" and the 877 number rang continuously.
Torres said the scam succeeds over and over again because the callers are able to draw the grandchild's name and other details out of the victim without them even realizing it. A victim's panicked response like, "What, you mean Joe?" gives the criminals the lead they need.
Holmdel Police contacted the Western Union service desk at the A&P and advised them to look out for signs that a victim in the throes of a scam. "Nine times out of ten, the money is gone" and not retrievable, said Torres. The US has no jurisdiction in Ecuador. The case is still under investigation.