Scammers hit 80-year-old woman for $12,000

February 28, 2011 4:07:18 PM PST
An 80-year-old woman is out thousands of dollars after falling victim to scammers who called the woman with news that her grandson was in trouble. The phone calls started earlier this month, and before anyone could figure out what was going on, the 80-year-old woman had wired $12,000 out of the country.

When it comes to phone calls from strangers, Dorothy Wimberley knows what to do.

She said, "I have had some calls that I do not recognize and I just hang up."

Authorities say unfortunately not all senior citizens do the same thing.

Sgt. Joe Smart with the Conroe Police Department said, "She got a call from an unknown person who claimed to be her grandson and that he was in trouble in the Dominican Republic, had been in an automobile accident."

Sgt. Smart says the caller went on to say the grandson had been drinking and needed $5,500 immediately.

"Her first thought was to call his father and talk to him about it and they said, 'No if you get anyone else involved in this it will be worse,'" Sgt. Smart explained.

Police say the woman wired the money out of the country as instructed and two days later her phone rang again. This time the scammers wanted another $6,500 and again the woman wired the money as instructed. Police say the scammers then called back a third time asking for more money.

"They probably would have gotten her for another $6,000 if the bank president had not stepped in and said, 'Hey, we have noticed a pattern of withdrawals that are unusual for you,'" Sgt. Smart said.

Police have now heard from five more families who say a similar scam was tried with their loved ones.

Allison Hulett, a case manager with the Friendship Center in Conroe, said, "Unfortunately it happens very, very often."

Hulett says her agency tries to get the word out to senior centers around the area so the elderly will not be victimized.

"Anything that comes up that I feel like they need to know about, I let them know at the activity centers," Hulett said. "We did try and disseminate this to as many of our Meals on Wheels homebound clients as we could."

Senior advocates say if you have not talked to your elderly loved ones about this kind of fraud, you should. Some of the crimes were stopped because the children of the potential elderly victims have oversight on their accounts.

The chances that authorities will catch the scammers and the get the victim her money back are virtually none. The phone calls came from the Dominican Republic and the money was sent to Europe. Investigators say tracking this kind of crime is almost impossible.

We worked on this story through our partnership with Houston Community Newspapers. You can read more in the Conroe Courier.