I don’t generally write about my personal life but the stories and things I write about has hit home for me. For all the posts, tweets, conversations I have around technology and the world I feel partly responsible that this event happened to a member of my family. So take note and spread the word that these things really can happen and do happen to anyone. All it takes a little seed of a comment to throw that little bit of knowledge to stop a very big mistake.
What I am talking about here is a very common and fairly old telephone scam known as the “It’s Me Scam”. Unfortunately my grandmother, who is pushing 90, fell victim to this scam to the tune of $15,000. Just a tragedy that could have and should have been avoided, but the scam it self works and the victims are so overcome with false sense of emotional urgency there is little they can do without a base of knowledge that these things out there exist.
So how this scam works is that someone calls a grandmother, how they figure out who’s a grandmother is unclear, but they do. I say it’s the open phone books and the names in them, first names that are not common anymore are generally a good target and good assumption the owner of that name is older and probably has grandchildren. The important aspect of this scam is the scammer probably has no idea about the victim or their family. It’s purely a guessing game until they get lucky.
Here’s how it works, at least in my grandmother’s case.
Scammer: Grandma, it’s me your grandson.
Grandma: How are you!?
Scammer: I have been in a bad car accident. I am in Panama for a friends wedding and at the hospital and I need money to deal with the bills and get a plane ticket home. Can you help.
Grandma: You sound different, you OK?
Scammer: The airbag deployed in the accident and broke my nose, I can’t talk right.
Grandma: Why don’t you call your dad?
Scammer: He said he wouldn’t help me.
Grandma: What about your wife?
Scammer: She doesn’t have any money to send.
Grandma: Oh my, what do you need?
Scammer: I need you to wire money via Western Union to me in the tune of $2,000.
And so on…..
She wired off the money once and they called back for more. She wired again and they called with another twist for more…. 6 times she wired money blindly thinking she was sending money to me. All because she assumed who she was talking to was her grandson.
She was the prime target. She is old. Not technical by any means. She is naive to the real world, a member of the greatest generation, earning and hanging on to every penny she made, she had no cultural education that this level of evil could exist in the world. So she did what she thought was the right thing to do.
After researching this and seeing other cases, $15,000 lost is actually lucky. By the 6th time she finally told the guy off and said no. They stopped calling and moved on to the next sucker, they got their $15,000 out of her. She is now wised up and no longer a victim.
In hindsight it’s an embarrassing event that should never have happened if a few things were done. However, when emotions take over the mind, rationalization no longer is possible.
The first simple thing that could have been done is to verify the wild story that her only grandson was in Panama and she never heard a word about it.
– Call her son. Call my house and talk to my wife.
– She lives in the same complex as my other grandmother, 4 doors away, walk down the hall
and ask her if she knew that I was in Panama.
Simple tasks that would have saved her every penny. There is really not much more to say.
So what about her and the money? Well, since the funds were sent Western Union Internationally, for the most part that money is gone. No chance, or very little chance, of recovery. That’s just sad.
Here are a few rules that should be put on a notecard and hung on the naive’s fridge.
– If anyone calls, no matter who you think it is, asking for money the first thing you do is ask for
a call back number. The scammer will terminate the call and move on.
– If anyone in an email, phone call, whatever ask to use Western Union to transfer the funds,
walk away. 99% chance it’s a scam.
– If the story doesn’t make any sense, it probably is not true. Validate. Call the family. Double
check the claims before sending any money internationally.
A little more advanced steps
– If anyone calls and says “It’s me your grandson”… ask back “Which one?” Even if you have
– If you are unsure, whatever you do, never supply names and details first. These scammers
are experts they feed off what you say. Listen if they say ‘wife’ instead of her name.
– Ask a personal question to the caller.
– Do anything that would completely trip up an anonymous caller asking for money. They get
tripped up, cross you off the list and move on. It’s not worth their time to keep working you,
there are others who won’t do these things and fall for it.
This situation has hit me hard personally. Being the technologist that I am, I am devastated that these scumbags infiltrated my inner circle and exposed me and turned my family into a victim. Now it’s personal.
Education, a conversation, a news clipping. All it takes a little hint that this is out there and give people doubt to not fall for this.
That’s all I have to say about this.
Spread the word.
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Binary Blogger has spent 20 years in the Information Security space currently providing security solutions and evangelism to clients. From early web application programming, system administration, senior management to enterprise consulting I provide practical security analysis and solutions to help companies and individuals figure out HOW to be secure every day.