Officials warn of 'grandparent scam' in Somerville

By Erin Baldassari

Somerville Journal

March 7, 2014

After a Somerville woman was conned out of money by a telephone scammer, law enforcement officials are warning of “grandparent scams.”

At a March 7 press conference at the Somerville Senior Center, Acting Somerville Police Chief Charles Femino said this was the only instance of this kind of scam in Somerville so far, but there had been reports of a similar scam where the caller claimed they were holding the person’s grandchild for ransom.

“This is the time of year where we see an uptick in these kinds of instances,” Femino said. “That’s why we wanted to do a media blitz to get the word out there about these scams.”

District Attorney Marian Ryan said these kinds of incidents have happened across the state, and they expected other residents might also be targeted.

“We want people to understand this is a scam,” Ryan said. “Scams thrive in isolation and secrecy. And, when you’re at home in your house, and you get a call about your beloved grandchild, you want to be helpful.”

Ryan, who was appointed to District Attorney last year and is running for election this year against County Clerk of Courts Michael Sullivan, said there had been “several” other instances of similar scams across the state, and she wanted the public to be aware of the patterns so they could be vigilant.

“There is seldom one person victimized,” Ryan said.

Ryan said the 90-year-old woman first contacted her office on Thursday after twice sending cash to an address outside the country. A person reportedly called the woman Wednesday morning posing as an out of state attorney representing the woman’s grandson, who they said had been arrested for driving under the influence.

The suspects reportedly told the woman her grandson needed money to make bail at a hearing that would be held later that day. Ryan said the woman asked to speak with her grandson, and the suspects consented, reportedly putting a male on the phone.

“She believed the voice she heard in saying hello was her grandson,” Ryan said. “She left her home, took a taxi to the bank and withdrew the cash.”

Later that day, the suspects reportedly called again and claimed the “judge was being difficult,” and the grandson was going to be held in jail with the general population. They reportedly recommended she send more cash so he could be held in the infirmary where he would be physically safer, and the woman again withdrew cash from her bank account and sent it in the mail.

The suspects reportedly told the woman not to call other family members out of respect for her grandson’s education and job.

 “(They said) they were trying to keep it quiet about the arrest,” Ryan said.

After sending the second package, the woman reportedly had second thoughts about the validity of the call and began attempting to reach other family members. Eventually, she was able to get in touch with her grandson, who reportedly told her he had not been arrested, didn’t know the attorneys and had no idea what she was talking about.

Once she realized she had sent money to a fraudulent address, the woman reportedly contacted the Middlesex District Attorney’s office, which then contacted the Somerville Police Department.

Somerville resident Rose Earle said she had received a call from Washington D.C. from a person claiming to be from the federal government asking for her social security number. She recognized it as a scam, but said the person has called repeatedly.

“It’s been a big problem here lately,” Earle said. “I’m very wary-eyed when I get a call like that, though. Thank goodness I didn’t give anything out.”

Other scams have involved people claiming to be from a bank asking for personal information, Ryan said. She told residents to always verify the call is legitimate by talking to other family members and the police before releasing money or any information.

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