CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - A scam targeting older victims is not only growing but is also taking more money from victims.
Jimmy Merritt of Goose Creek has grandchildren living in Georgia, Mississippi and South Carolina. A recent call caught the 80-year-old off guard when the voice on the other end claimed to be his grandson at Georgia Southern University.
The caller told Merritt he was in Florida with a friend. He also claimed to be in police custody after officers found drugs in their car.
“He needed a $10,000 bond to get him out,” Merritt said.
The caller pretending to be Merritt’s grandson gave him the name and phone number for the lawyer handling the case. Merritt called and the lawyer laid out the plan to take care of the grandson’s bond.
“You can go to Walmart and get gift cards, come back home, sit down and give me the numbers off of them and that’ll take care of it,” Merritt said.
Merritt hung up the phone and drove to the closest Walmart. He had instructions to buy 25 gift cards, loaded with $400 each. The plan hit a snag right away.
“I couldn’t get as many gift cards as they wanted,” Merritt said.
He bought two cards, totaling $800 and called the lawyer back. Merritt gave him the numbers for the gift cards over the phone, but was told he needed much more than 800 dollars.
At this point, Merritt realized he was being scammed. Almost two hours after buying the first cards at Walmart, Merritt returned to the store to see if he could undo the damage and save his money.
“They said yeah, this sounds like a scam and you need to cancel them out right now,” Merritt said.
Luck was on his side. A customer service representative checked the cards, determined the money was still there, and helped Merritt transfer the $800 to a pair of new cards. Merritt also called his grandson and found him safe in Georgia.
According to the FTC, victims of friends and family imposter scams reported a median loss of about $2,000 dollars in 2015. The story is much worse for victims 70 and older. They reported median losses around $9,000 per incident.
The FTC has the following recommendations to avoid scams like this.
- Don’t act right away.
- Call the family member or friend directly or check with another family member, even if the caller wants you to keep it a secret.
- Be careful about personal information posted publicly on social media. It could give scammers more information to use against you.
If you have a scam story to share, email Kyle Jordan at Scams@live5news.com.