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At the Helm: Hard lesson for a soft heart

 

Elise Becker is embarrassed. So much so that she won’t let the public know her real name.

The Harbor resident is in her 80s, lives on Social Security and has a soft spot for her adult granddaughter – a soft spot that cost her some cold, hard cash this week.

Nine hundred dollars to be exact. 

She was scammed.

“I considered myself to be very sharp,” Becker said. “I can’t believe I fell for this.”

She wants to prevent others from becoming victims of what is known as the “grandparent scam.” Con artists target grandparents with fake stories about family members stranded in any number of countries in urgent need of money.

In Becker’s case, she received a phone call Tuesday from a woman crying hysterically and talking about getting arrested for drunk driving in Canada and needing bail money.

One of the first things Becker said was, “Is this Christy?”

Big mistake.

The con artist used this basic information to convince Becker it was her granddaughter calling.

“She knew exactly what to say to make me believe,” she said.

It didn’t help that Becker thought it was possible that her real granddaughter had taken a vacation to Canada. 

“My granddaughter has cancer. She was scheduled for a double mastectomy in a few months and I thought she might have taken a trip to Canada before surgery,” Becker said.

The con artist said she was vacationing at popular tourist site Niagara Falls. She even had Becker talk to her “lawyer.” 

“It was a woman lawyer, and she was very convincing, too,” Becker said.

Her concern for her granddaughter’s wellbeing was overwhelming.

“I was worried sick about her. I just had to help,” Becker said.

She did as she was instructed by the fake lawyer, pulling cash out of her savings account and going to Fred Meyer to wire the money via Western Union. When a suspicious Western Union later refused to send the money, she went to Walmart, where she successfully used the Moneygram service to send the money.

Becker learned the truth later that day when she phoned a Canadian police officer in Niagara Falls, who simply told her, “You’ve been scammed.”

It was then she called her granddaughter’s home in Roseburg, where she talked with her son-in-law and learned her granddaughter was not in Canada, but in town.

“I feel so stupid; when I look back on it, the words (the scammers) used were so generic,” she said. “They didn’t really know anything about my granddaughter, I gave them all the information they needed.”

“They just called the right person, at the right time,” she added.

There’s one emotion that overrides the embarrassment – happiness.

“I was so happy to hear my granddaughter’s voice; I was so relieved to know she was okay, that she wasn’t arrested,” she said.

According to the Oregon Attorney General’s Office there are several red flags that indicate a scammer is at work. Be wary of a caller who:

•Requests that money be wired in a very short time frame;

•Claims to be stuck in a foreign country; 

•Insists on secrecy; and/or;

•Gets some personal details wrong. 

Before wiring money, grandparents should independently call and confirm the whereabouts of their family members. e highly skeptical of any phone request for money wires. Ask personal questions of the callers to confirm their identity.

On Friday, Becker received a magazine in the mail with an article about these tips.

“I wish it had come a few days earlier,” she said. “I could have saved myself $900.”

 

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