Local police and other community members are warning residents to beware of a phone scam that’s targeted several elderly residents in Petersburg this past year. The caller typically claims to be a grandchild in dire trouble and in need of money. There are some variations on the theme, but as Matt Lichtenstein reports, the scam has been around for a while.
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“My call came from supposedly my grandson who had left and gone to LA for somebody’s wedding is what he said,” Petersburg resident Jeanie Norheim received one of the scam phone calls this summer, “And he said he had this car he was driving, it was a rental, and the airbags blew up in his face and he’s got a broken nose, no teeth, and he could hardly talk decent and so he needed nine thousand dollars to get out of jail and start getting some lawyer help”

When Norheim asked why he didn’t contact his parents, the scammer said he didn’t want them to know about it and urged her not to call them. When she said she didn’t have the money, he asked to talk to her husband, Roald.

“He said, well, let me talk to grandpa. And right then I knew it was not my grandson, because they have never called Roald ‘grandpa’. It has always been ‘Papa’. I said ‘you don’t even sound like my grandson.’ So, I gave the phone to Roald and he told him the same thing and the guy slammed the phone down in his ear when he told him to go jump in the lake. So, that was our experience,” Norheim said.

Norheim said several of her friends got the same phone call. Local police have received reports about the scam but have no leads in the case. They urge residents not give out personal information and to contact the police department. There were reports of similar calls to Juneau residents a year ago.

Nationwide, the FBI says it’s gotten complaints about the so-called “Grandparent Scam” since 2008. There are a number of variations. Sometimes the caller pretends to be another relative or a friend of the relative, their attorney or even an arresting officer or a doctor. But they all prey on a a senior’s urgent concern for a loved-one.

According to Anchorage-based FBI Agent Eric Gonzolez, the scammers can be very convincing, “So people just need to be aware of the scam. When you get a call like this, just hang up. If, for some reason, you may even think it’s believable, call a family member to verify it. But, 99 percent of the time it’s going to be a scheme. Just hang up,” he said.

In addition to contacting local police, you can report such calls to the FBI’s internet crime complaint center. The website includes a variety of statistics and reports about phone and internet scams. The address is ic3.gov