The phone rings. It’s your granddaughter who is away at college. She is upset. She’s been in an accident and needs money for her attorney.
Of course, you want to help her and send her thousands of dollars in cash, as she requests. Then you do it again. And you attempt a third time.
But the truth is this is a scam and it’s happening to senior citizens across the country as well as right here in Warwick.
A red flag goes up
On Monday, Sept. 21, a man in his 70s came into Track 7 Postal Center on the corner of Forester and Colonial Avenues.
Owner Eileen Patterson said she greeted him and asked him the usual questions. “Is there any cash, alcohol or perfume in the package?”
He answered no, but didn’t make eye contact with her and seemed nervous.
She asked again about cash being in the package, explaining to him that he cannot ship cash. This set off a red flag to her.
“I could tell he was uncomfortable when I asked specifically about cash in the package,” said Patterson. “Something was just off and I am aware of scams, especially focused on senior citizens.”
After the man left, Patterson’s instincts kicked in. Because of his nervousness, she decided to open the package, which is her right as a shipper. The small priority mail box that was almost completely covered in tape before being placed in a Fed Ex envelope contained two bank envelopes, each with $5,000 in cash. The envelopes were wrapped in newspaper.
She called the Warwick Police and Det. Frederick Hoffman answered.
Catching the scammer
“We took the information from Eileen and contacted the man who was sending the package,” said Hoffman.
He told the detective what had transpired. He got the call from his granddaughter who said she was driving a friend’s car and got into an accident injuring someone. Her friend’s father is an attorney and can handle it all without any charges against her if they just give him the cash. A man even got on the phone saying he was the attorney and instructed the Warwick resident that there is a gag order on this case and so he could not tell anyone, not even his son, the granddaughter’s father, or she would go to jail.
Unfortunately, the victim of this scam had already sent two packages of cash to an address in Florida containing a total of $15,000.
This one, which contained the largest amount of money so far, $10,000, was going to Rhode Island.
Hoffman said they removed the cash, filled the box with paper and sent it overnight to the address, then notified the local police who tracked it to an abandoned house and arrested the man who picked it up. That man was arrested.
He had several other packages, all containing cash, from throughout the country.
Love is an easy target
Hoffman said the scams geared toward older residents usually focus on the people they love, specifically grandchildren.
“It’s very common for scammers to involve grandchildren,” said Hoffman, “because it’s an easy target. Grandparents love their grandchildren and will do whatever they can to help them.”
Both Hoffman and Patterson said the victim insisted the girl on the phone was his granddaughter – it sounded just like her according to him and his wife. “He was adamant that it was his granddaughter,” said Hoffman.
How could a stranger know he has a granddaughter, not to mention what she sounds like?
“Social media,” Hoffman answered.
People post photos and videos on all social media platforms. They seem innocent enough but there are many people out there looking to scam and they get enough information just by clicking around.
Another common scam: a loved one arrested
A very common scam against grandparents is that their grandchild has been arrested. You’re directed to send cash or to buy gift cards in large amounts and provide the account number for bail.
“No police department takes bail over the phone,” said Hoffman. “They don’t take cash shipped to them. Bail must be paid in person.”
What should you do if you believe you are being scammed?
If you realize something is not right with a phone call, hang up and keep your guard up, Hoffman said. And tell your friends to beware. If you are not sure, call your local police.
“If you don’t trust what you heard on the call but aren’t sure, call us first,” Hoffman said. “The police can help verify if it’s true or a scam.”
Don’t be shy about it. Truly, Hoffman said, the police would much rather help someone avoid losing large amounts of money. Better to be safe than sorry. Make that call.
And there is no need to be embarrassed. “This man is smart and savvy,” said Patterson. “This can happen to anyone.”
A grateful customer
On Sept. 22, a very grateful and relieved customer returned to Track 7 to thank Patterson.
“His entire demeanor was different,” said Patterson. “He was so grateful.”
Patterson, though, felt bad for those shipments she didn’t catch.
“We’ve missed some,” Patterson said, noting she has been called by police for tracking numbers. “I feel so bad that we missed the first two packages he sent.”
However, Hoffman focused on the positive.
“If not for Eileen Patterson, he could still be shipping money,” said Hoffman. “She felt something just wasn’t right. Trust your radar.”
“Trust your radar.”
Warwick Police Detective Frederick Hoffman