Warning against wire money scam targeting seniors

Seven On Your Side
March 25, 2010 2:42:04 PM PDT
There have been warnings before about phone scams targeting seniors. But when someone calls saying they are a relative and need money, it can be hard to say no. One local senior learned that lesson the hard way when a scammer used a family member to tug on her heart strings.

"Ryan, my son, her grandson, is in terrible trouble," Kathy Kaplan said. "He said something about a car accident, that he was in Canada, that he was going to jail, he needed money."

A 92-year-old Manhattan grandmother heard this plea and, with thoughts of her beloved grandson injured in another country and needing money, had her aide wheel her to the closest Western Union and sent $2,200 right away. Then, Mildred Marx called her daughter.

"I said 'Mom, he is fine. What are you talking about?'" Kaplan said. "She said, 'No, he is not. I promise you, he is not fine. He is in big trouble. He is afraid to tell you...He said please promise, don't tell mom and dad, and he was crying.'"

But the crying person on the other end of that call was an imposter.

"I was never in trouble," Ryan Kaplan said. "I was never in Canada."

Yet someone in Canada made off with Mildred's money. A man using the name Brian Andrew picked up the cash at the Western Union Office on Saint Hubert in Montreal at 12:49 the same day she sent it.

"You know, investigating these types of crimes is really very difficult because it's very anonymous," postmaster general John Del Guidice said. "It's outside the scope of our jurisdiction. It's outside the United States. It's international, so it's very difficult to locate these people. And it's even more difficult to prosecute them."

Fraud investigators with the US Postal Service say scammers target seniors daily, somehow getting home phone numbers and addresses and instructing victims to use wiring services to other countries so they can escape the law.

"Disgusting, heartless," Kaplan said. "I can't even put words together for a human being who would take advantage so easily of senior citizens, and there's no one protecting them."

In her mother's case, the swindler simply called and said "Grandma, it's me," without ever having to mention a name.

"It was a good shot, because she is referred to as grandma," Kaplan said. "She only has one grandson, so it wasn't difficult."

"It makes me feel terrible that she was so worried about me and tortured," Brian said. "And you know she is a good grandma. She did what she had to, sent the money, and we only found out later it was not me."

So who was it? Eyewitness News spoke to Western Union's fraud division, which is investigating this very prevalent scam.

They are training agents to look for signs and warn people who may fall for this, like seniors.