OCEAN CITY — Authorities are warning residents and visitors of a new rash of a relatively old scam targeting vulnerable elderly people in the resort area and around Worcester County.
The Ocean City Police Department (OCPD) and Worcester County law enforcement agencies announced this week an alarming increase in scams directed at senior citizens and retirees. The most recent scam, which has become increasingly common, has several variations, but almost always involved an elderly person being contacted by a loved one in trouble and needing help getting out of an embarrassing or harmful situation.
In most cases, the scammer will call the victim and claim to be a child, grandchild, niece or nephew depending on the level of information that have about the family. The scammer will indicate he or she has been arrested and in need of help. In other cases, another scammer will contact the victim by telephone and claim to be a lawyer, law enforcement officer or bail bondsman and provide the same basic information in order to provide legitimacy to the first caller.
The scammers will then request credit card information or ask the victim to wire money to a Western Union office or other transaction facilitator out of the area in order to get them out of jail or whatever harmful situation the scam presents. Police have learned the scammers are accessing family knowledge, typically over the Internet, in order to make the scam more convincing.
“We’re seeing it some in Ocean City, but they’re really seeing more cases out in the county,” said OCPD Public Information Officer Mike Levy this week. “They are calling late at night or early in the morning when the victims are a little disoriented or a little more vulnerable. It’s really unbelievable.”
In one recent example, an 84-year-old Ocean City woman got an early morning call from an individual claiming to be her grandson who was in trouble and in dire need of financial assistance. The caller told his “grandmother” he was in St. Lucia for a wedding and that he had been in an accident, had broken his nose and was in jail on suspicion of driving while intoxicated. The caller told the victim he needed $2,000 to get out of jail and get medical attention.
The unsuspecting grandmother wired the $2,000 requested to the individual at the appointed place and time and also paid the $115 to complete the transaction. She later learned the caller was not her grandson, who was safely home in the U.S. and was not in a dire situation. On the other end of the transaction, a unknown individual picked up the wired money and completed another successful scam.
The scheme is not an entirely new one and different variations have been carried out on those most vulnerable for years, but the latest version is particularly insidious because of the resources the callers are using. In this case, the caller claimed to be the victim’s “favorite” grandson Jonathan and sprinkled references to other family members and other personal information throughout the plea for money that helped convince the victim the call was legitimate.
With the proliferation of social networks, such as Facebook, for example, personal information including family members, pictures, birthdays, vacations etc. are easily accessible to criminals intent on scamming the vulnerable. Facebook and used that piece of information to set up the victim. The OCPD is reminding citizens to never wire money to strangers as such requests are almost always a scam. Requests to wire money for family members in trouble are almost always red flag signals of an attempted fraud.