GRANDPARENT SCAM: Older Iowans Targeted

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Clinton Richey`s big rip-off started with a ringing telephone.

The familiar voice of a girl was on the other end of the line.  Clinton`s wife, Joanne, talked to the young woman, too.  Joanne says it sounded like the girl was in trouble.

Joanne says, “Lots of people call us for help `cause we`re kind of helpful people, I guess.”

The girl never gave her name.  Instead she asked if they knew who was calling.  They assumed it was the daughter of a friend.  The scam artist played along.  Then, she handed the phone over to a man who claimed he was a Canadian police officer, and boy did he have a story.

Joanne says, “That these kids had been found, they`d found narcotics in their car and it sounded like trying to get across the border and they got picked up.”

He said they were on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls.  He told the Richeys they needed to get the girl a bail bond, and he told them to purchase it internationally.

Joanne says, “Well, if you went local, they would have to... There would be a good chance that it would be reported to the embassy and this young person would have a record, but if you went international, they weren`t required to do that.”

The Richeys didn`t want the girl to get the girl into any more trouble, so they went to their bank in Indianola and withdrew $1,200.  They wired it via Western Union to who they thought was an international bail bondsman in Peru, of all places.

Bill Brauch from the Attorney Generals Office says, "If you have to wire money to somebody who's called you out of the blue, it's probably a scam."

It was.  And the Richeys believed every word of it.

The appropriately titled, 'grandparents scam' surfaced a few years ago.  Bill Brauch from the attorney generals` office says the number of cases tapered off.

He says, "Then more recently have increased again and it's hard to say what the cause might be."

But the results are often the same.

Joanne says, “The next day, they called and wanted more money.”

The Richeys saw the red flag.  They called the parents of the girl they thought they were talking to in Canada.  She was safe at home a few miles away.  The Richeys were the ones taken for a ride.

Brauch says, "Where you wire money away, your chances of recovery are very, very minimal."

Bill Brauch heads-up the consumer protection division for the Iowa Attorney General`s Office.  His team of investigators fielded 5,000 complaints each year. Twenty-five-hundred of them are direct results of scams.

Hey says, "Iowans tend to be targeted not just because we have a higher percentage of seniors,” but because we`re so trusting.  Clinton and Joann certainly were.

The trick, says Brauch, is knowing whom you can trust.

He says, “Anybody who's asking you to wire money away; that is a sure sign of trouble.  Don't do it."

Brauch says he wishes more people like the Richeys would come forward and report their encounters with scam artists.

He says that's the only way they can track the scam activity to forewarn people who may be targeted.