A Port Coquitlam grandmother is warning seniors a phone scammer is targeting them with emotionally terrifying stories about their grandkids to gain their confidence and cash.
Marlene Sikorra is still processing the horrifying call she received at around noon on Wednesday (Oct. 13).
“I don’t trust a lot of things but for me to be taken is surprising,” said Sikorra to the Tri-City News.
The call came on her landline which she explained is usually reserved for family emergencies, so she answered with a bit of worry, but quickly turned to panic when she heard the caller’s tale of woe.
The caller sounded so much like her 24-year-old grandson that Sikorra was almost taken in.
She said the caller appeared to know her and recounted how he was in jail and needing bail because of a random stop by police.
CALLER SEEKS CASH FOR BAIL MONEY
In Sikorra’s anxious mind, the call seemed to make sense because she knew her grandson was visiting friends in B.C.’s interior and had been complaining of a sore throat.
The caller said he was driving with his friend’s brother to get a rapid COVID-19 test and, after testing negative, was stopped by police who found a large amount of marijuana in the trunk of the vehicle.
“Now, I’m in jail in the police station,” said the caller, who said he “chose” Sikorra to help him out.
But the scammer’s greediness may have been what stopped her from immediately giving him the cash.
“How much do you need?” Sikorra asked the fraudster.
The reply: "$9,000."
The 78-year-old woman said she was getting “crazier in the head by the moment.”
She told the caller she didn’t have $9,000 and would have to call his mom.
He protested, saying, “Don’t call mom,” but when she insisted, that’s when the line went dead.
In a state of high anxiety, she called her daughter who went to Port Moody police (PMPD) to see what jail her son was in.
When she heard that there was no record of the young man in a B.C. jail, the daughter knew someone had tried to scam her mom.
“I just about had a heart attack listening to his story,” Sikorra added to the Tri-City News. “It ended up it’s a scam that police knew about.”
POLICE WARN OF 'GRANDPARENT SCAM'
Indeed, the so-called “grandparent scam” has been circulating in the Tri-Cities for years, dating back to 2014 when another PoCo grandparent got a call from a woman who claimed to be her 24-year-old granddaughter.
The fraudster proceeded to ask for money to help her get out of jail after a car accident, and in that case, the woman handed over more than $2,000.
Not long before, a Port Moody senior was bilked out of $7,600 in the same scam.
These types of calls are common, according to police and seniors can protect themselves by asking a lot of questions and resisting the pressure to "act now."
Verify who you are dealing with: ask for details from the caller, such as his or her name, whereabouts, etc. Then confirm the details with other family members.
“I would caution the community that it is not normal practice for a person in custody to call a family member asking to be bailed out,” said Const. Sam Zacharias, PMPD spokesperson.
Zacharias said police have received six reports about scams in recent days, but none of the grandparent scam variety.
REACTING 'OUT OF PANIC'
According to Zacharias, the calls "vary from a Craigslist deposit scam to a pseudo-overpayment scam where the suspect caller demanded the victim purchase Google Play Cards."
As for Sikorra, she has since spoken to her beloved electrician grandson, who told her he would never be in that kind of trouble.
“I could have phoned, I have his cell number. I was panicking and thinking, ‘She can look after it.’ That’s left me a bit bewildered and wondering what this world is coming to."
More information about recent frauds and scams, and how to best protect yourself, can be found on the RCMP's website.