By Tim Evans
The tearful call caught the Indianapolis man off guard. And that cost him $4,000. On the other end of the phone line, the man believed, was his daughter who lives with other family members in the Caribbean.
Through a hail of hysterical sobs, the distraught woman explained she had caused a traffic accident and was being held by local authorities. Then she handed the phone off to her attorney. He told the man the victim wanted $4,000 in restitution and all charges would be dropped.
The caring father eager to help his daughter acted before fully thinking things through. He went to a Best Buy store and, as instructed, purchased $4,000 in gift cards. On his way home, he got a call from the person he believed to be his daughter’s attorney and gave the man the ID codes for the gift cards.
Not long after he got home, the man’s daughter called. When he inquired how she was doing after the accident, she didn’t know what he was talking about. That’s when he realized that he’d been scammed. He’d become a victim of a variation of the increasingly common “grandparent scam.”
In hindsight, the man admitted he should have seen the red flags. But his only focus at the time was on trying to help his daughter. It’s the reaction scammers count on.
He’s far from alone. According to a report from the Indiana attorney general, the office’s Consumer Protection Division received 90 complaints about grandparent/family scams in the first four months of 2016. For the same period this year, the office received 130 reports — and the year-to-date count now stands at 254!
Earlier this month, after failing to get help from his credit card company and Best Buy, the man reported the scam to the IndyStar Call for Action consumer assistance hotline. It was one of 10 new cases we’ve opened in September for Hoosiers who’ve called (317) 444-6800 for free help. The hotline is open from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday. Online requests may be submitted anytime at IndyStar.com/CallForAction.
I’m not sure if we’ll have any luck getting the man’s $4,000 back — it is, at best, a long shot — but volunteer Bill is on the case. I’ll let you know how things turn out in a future column.
Here’s a link to more information from AARP on how to avoid being caught in a “grandparent scam.”
While I’m on the topic of education-is-yourbest- defense, I want to give a shoutout to Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson, who is in the midst of a “Movie And A Meal” tour around the state to educate Hoosiers about securities and investment fraud.
The tour features screenings of the documentary “$cammed,” which details the dramatic impact experienced by victims of three major Indiana securities fraud cases. The documentary — funded with a grant from the nonprofit Investor Protection Trust — was made in partnership with WFYI-20.
“To hear the people affected by these scams is just so impactful,” said Valerie Warycha, Lawson’s spokeswoman.
Featured in the documentary are victims of the Alanar church bond scam centered in Sullivan County; Marcus Schrenker, the Fishers financial adviser who attempted to fake his death in a plane crash; and the Blackwelder real estate scheme that targeted senior citizens. According to the secretary of state’s office: 76 investment clients lost a total of $4 million to Schrenker, Alanar sold $120 million in bogus church bonds to 10,000 investors, and 300 families were bilked out of $19 million in the Blackwelder case.
Warycha said Americans lose more than $40 billion a year in securities fraud cases. The presentations are free and a meal — either breakfast or lunch — is provided, thanks to another grant, but you do need to RSVP in advance.
Here’s a list of upcoming dates and locations: Sept. 19, 8-9:30 a.m. — The Commons, Columbus.
Sept. 19, Noon-1:30 p.m. — Bloomington City Hall, Council Chambers.
Sept. 21, 8-9:30 a.m. — Brownsburg Public Library.
Sept. 21, Noon-1:30 p.m. — The Social, Greenwood.
Oct. 2, 8-9:30 a.m. — Hancock County Public Library, Greenfield.
Oct. 2, Noon-1:30 p.m. — Richmond Innovation Center, Richmond.
Oct. 5, 8-9 a.m. — Delaware County Senior Citizen, Muncie.
Oct. 5, Noon-1:30 p.m. — Life Care Center, Fort Wayne.
To RSVP to one of the events, email Katrina Ent at firstname.lastname@example.org or call her at (317) 977-2206.