Officials warn of telephone scam

WHITTIER — Police are cautioning residents to be wary of an old scam that’s made a resurgence lately in which con artist claim to be troubled relatives in need of emergency money.
The so-called “relative scam” or “grandparent scam” appears to grow more prevalent during the holiday season, when people are more likely to be traveling, Whittier police Officer Bradley White said.
Two Whittier residents have been conned out of nearly $9,000 in this type of scam in recent months, the officer said.
In the scam, “An individual calls, either from Mexico or Canada. Once you answer the phone, the individual keeps the conversation vague until the victim (you) gives them a name of a family member,” Whittier police said in a written statement.
“Once the individual has that name, they will claim to be that person. The scammer then will tell you that they need money wired to a certain location because they have an emergency. The emergencies consist of; car accidents, auto repairs, they need bail money or they have to pay hospital bills for injuries,” the statement said.
An 82-year-old Whittier woman fell victim to the scam Aug. 31 and wired $2,800 to the crooks after she received a phone call from someone “pretending to be a relative in jail (in Mexico) and needing bail money,” White said.
A 34-year-old Whittier woman also came across the scammers on July 16, police said.
Over two days, he said, “She had wired a total of wired about $6,000 to a person in Mexico claiming to be in an accident.” The caller said the money was needed to pay for medical bills and damage to the vehicle of the other driver.
“We want to make the public aware that this scam is out there,” White said.
Similar scams have been reported throughout the region in recent months and years.
In January, two elderly West Covina resident sent about $4,800 and $9,500, respectively, though the same type of con, and an elderly Arcadia couple was duped out of about $17,000, officials said.
In October of 2009, an elderly Whittier man wired $2,8000 to scammers who convinced him his grandson had been in a car crash in Canada and needed money, according to investigators. He was about to wire more money when an alert Wal-Mart employee tipped him off to the scam.
The complex nature of the crime, and the fact that it appears to involve crooks outside the United States, investigators have said this type of scam is highly difficult to prosecute. As detectives work to gather useful information about the con artists, they advise they public to be cautious on the telephone.
Whittier police offered some tips to avoid being scammed when talking on the telephone.
“First, if you receive a call from someone pretending to be your relative, make them tell you their name. Never assume you are talking to your relative,” according to the police statement.
“Second, ask them specific questions that would make them prove they are your relative. If they can’t prove who they are, hang up. Third, if you believe you are talking to a relative and they are asking for money; double check their story before your wire the money to them. You can check by asking for their phone number to call them back. You can also call another relative to confirm their story.”

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