A local elderly couple learned the hard way that things aren't always what they seem.
The couple, who asked not to be identified, wired nearly $3,000 to an address in Spain to spring their grandson from a Canadian jail.
But the young man had never been arrested. In fact, he never went on the "fishing trip" to Canada described by the man impersonating him on the phone.
The Androscoggin County Sheriff's Department released information about the Aug. 10 incident Tuesday as a warning to residents — especially older ones — to beware of the latest scam to hit the country.
A search on the Internet reveals that elderly people are falling prey to a particularly cruel type of scam known as "the grandparent scam" or the "grandma scam." An April 5 article from the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. detailed the case of an 86-year-old Vancouver woman who fell victim to a similar scam, to the tune of nearly $10,000.
According to the article, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police said the scam is sweeping its way across North America, affecting hundreds of senior citizens. Much like the local couple, the woman answered the phone call — which came from Area Code 514 — from a young man claiming to be her grandson.
The local victim asked which grandson she was speaking to and the man asked her who she thought he was. When she guessed a name, he told her she was right and launched into a story about how he was arrested while on a fishing trip in Canada with two guys he'd just met.
The woman wanted to help her grandson. The man on the other end told her he needed bail money, and she agreed to pay.
Shortly after hanging up with the man she believed to be her grandson, the woman received a call from another man claiming to be a sergeant with the Canadian police. This man instructed them to take a cash advance on their credit card and to send it via Western Union from the Hannaford on Spring Street in Auburn.
It wasn't until the couple talked with their grandson later that they realized they were victims. They told authorities that they thought they were speaking with a legitimate police officer because the sergeant answered the number when they called.
But a call to the telephone number provided in the statement released by the Androscoggin County Sheriff's Department went directly to a French-speaking voice mail.
A further search on the Internet turned up similar cases being investigated by the Ohio attorney general's office. According to a blog on the attorney general's website, a Columbus grandmother received a call just like the other two women from an alleged grandson claiming to be in a Canadian jail.
In many cases, the grandparents were begged by their alleged grandsons not to tell anyone for fear of further problems. In all cases, people were told to wire money in order to bail their grandsons out of jail.
"If you get a call from this number to help your grandson, call your grandson at his home first," the woman warned. "Don't send money without contacting someone else in your family, or the police."