An imposter pretending to be a grandson in need of financial help swindled an Island resident earlier this month, and police remind residents to be cautious of such scams when giving away money.
About two weeks ago, Islander Margie Cook, 81, wired $9,000 in two separate transactions to a man who she thought was her 20-year-old grandson claiming to have been in an accident in Canada.
“He said he was in an accident and was there for a rock concert. That’s typical of him and his age,” said Cook, who lost $9,465 total with the transaction and currency exchange fees. The scammer contacted Cook with a phone call. The caller immediately addressed her as “grandma” after she answered the phone with a “hello.”
“Is that you, Greg?” Cook said she replied.
The caller said he was, then explained he had been in a “pretty serious” accident in Montreal, Canada, while driving a rental car and needed money right away. He also asked the worried grandmother not to tell his parents because he did not want them to know about the accident. A few hours later, Cook wired $4,000 to the man. The next day, she sent more money. She even paid the exchange fee.
“He got a little more than he wanted,” said Cook of the con man and the effort she went through to aid her grandson.
In hindsight, Cook said she missed a couple of signs that indicated something was afoul. After she received the second call from the impostor, who asked for another $5,000 the next day — explaining that his friend had injured a knee in the accident and needed surgery, Cook went to get another money order. At the Mercer Island Albertsons customer service desk, she approached the same employee who she encountered the day before. She then asked for a second Moneygram. The teller warned Cook that something did not sound right and suggested that she not send the money. Cook insisted, stating that she was concerned for her grandson. The employee refused and Cook went to another store.
“That’s pretty outstanding,” said Mercer Island police detective Jeff Magnan of the service at Albertsons. “He deserves recognition for catching on to that and refusing service.”
Cook also later learned that her grandson does not have a passport, which is now a requirement to travel across the border. Magnan said that other Islanders should be cautious when giving away money.
“These suspects are very good at what they do. They are able to manipulate someone over the phone immediately,” said Magnan.
Magnan wants to remind other Islanders to watch out for the warning signs indicating that a cry for help may be a scam. Had Cook picked up on the signals, she may have been able to help the police catch the thief. Magnan said finding the swindlers would be difficult and getting the money back would be impossible. He said tracking the wired money is difficult alone, but even harder if it crossed international borders. Plus, the victim had no caller ID, so they don’t know where the calls were coming from. After going through the experience, Cook said it hurts to be duped.
“They [are] kind to you, then take your money,” said Cook.