• John McGary, Woodford Sun Staff

'Grandparent scam' costs local man $4K

The Sun spoke with a Versailles man who agreed to tell his story about being ripped off for $4,000 last week. He asked only that we not use his name or that of the grandson he thought he was trying to help. We shall refer to the victim as "Bob." Bob was at home mid-morning on Tuesday, Aug. 2, when his landline phone rang and he answered. "'This is Sheriff So and So from North Carolina,'" Bob said he was told, adding that he didn't recall the last name the "sheriff" gave. "'Your grandson is incarcerated and he was riding in a car with his friend and they found marijuana in the car.'" Bob said he may have offered his grandson's name, but wasn't sure. "I quit functioning, frankly, after that," he said. The voice on the other end had what Bob believes is a Southern accent. "They were good. They were damn good. It's smooth - played me like a fiddle, I'll tell you. He said in order to get him out of jail, it'd be $2,000 for bail money," Bob said. The sheriff told him to purchase $2,000 worth of iTunes cards and call him back. "I said, 'Can I do it any other way?' 'No, no, we want to make sure that it's not reversible or anything like that,'" Bob said. The sheriff told him to go to Dollar General or a similar store. Bob struck out there, so he went to Kroger and purchased four $500 cards. He went back home and the phone rang. The sheriff had more bad news. "They found cocaine in the car. Therefore, it ups the bail money to $7,000," the "sheriff" said. Bob hesitated, then said, "That sounds like a scam to me. He said, 'No sir, it's real,'" but said he believed bail on the cocaine charge could be addressed by just $2,000 more in iTunes cards. The sheriff asked if Bob would like to talk to his grandson. A young man got on the phone, crying. "And I couldn't understand what he said. The only thing I could understand (was), 'Don't tell Dad,'" Bob said. "I said, '(grandson's name), I'm going to tell your dad.'" His "grandson" and the sheriff told Bob that if he told someone else, it would complicate matters and make them worse. "Also, he kept insisting that, as soon as we see the money, he'll be released. 'Your bail money will be refunded.' And he kept saying, 'Oh, your grandson is not implicated,'" but rather the friend his grandson was with. Bob went back to Kroger to purchase four more $500 cards. A clerk there, fearing a scam, was reluctant to let him purchase the cards, but Bob insisted. He went back home, called the number he'd been given and read serial numbers from the eight iTunes cards. The sheriff told him, "Well, we'll call you back. It takes some time to verify the validity of (the numbers) ." Bob said. Part of his worry about his grandson involved the fact that he'd graduated from college in the last year, landed a good job with a pharmaceutical company, then was promoted. He'd almost certainly lose the job if management learned of drug problems. Asked whether he ever got the call-back, Bob replied, "Well, hell, no." Increasingly certain he'd been scammed and wanting to see if he could get his money back, Bob went to see Woodford Sheriff Wayne Wright, feeling, as he put it later, "Dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb." Wright knew immediately that Bob had been the victim of the so-called "grandparent scam," in which an elderly person is called and told a story like Bob had heard. Wright called the number Bob had been given and heard the following message (The Sun called it, too): ". forwarded to a voicemail service that has not been initialized by the customer you are calling. The customer you are calling is not available at this time. When you reach the customer at a later time, please remind the customer to access their voicemail and initialize their mailbox. Thank you." Wright told The Sun that the scam artists prey upon their victims' fear for a loved one and the disinclination of most to doubt or argue with a member of the law enforcement community. "They can make it very believable and they did, they just lured him right in," Wright said. Wright informed the state attorney general's office of Bob's problem, but didn't have much hope he'd get his money back or that the "sheriff" or "grandson" would be caught. Nor does Bob, who said he won't miss any meals, despite the loss of $4,000. He regrets being taken, but not the feelings that led to his loss. "I love my grandson. He's a good kid," Bob said. BBB tips The Better Business Bureau's Lexington branch is quite familiar with the grandparent scam. Communications Director Heather Clay offered this advice: . Never wire money or pay with an untraceable method no matter how urgent the situation until you've checked it out. Con artists are now turning to cards you load that they promptly empty. . First sign of a scam: "Don't tell anybody." . Neither law enforcement agencies nor the IRS take payments in iTunes or other gift cards. . Establish a private code word or phrase family members can use if they're in trouble. . If you're called by someone telling you a family member is in trouble, check on their status, even if the caller warns you not to.

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