$6,000 Scam Hits Local Family

In Wake of Mail Thefts, Scams Up, Caution Vital

By Patric Hedlund

“Grandpa?” David Martin of Pine Mountain heard when he picked up the telephone July 30, just as he was preparing to leave for a two-week vacation.

“Eric?” Martin answered. “No, this is your oldest grandson. I’m in trouble,” the caller replied. That’s the way the tale begins as a local couple explains how they were persuaded to spend $6,000 on a Walmart MoneyGram to send to a Canadian location.

Social Security Scam

On August 13 in Lake of the Woods, Al Fleming also got a suspicious call.

“They started by identifying themselves as being from the Social Security office. They tell you that you will be getting a new SSI card soon and they need to verify information to process it. They ask for your address (they usually already have it), then they ask to what bank you deposit your SSI checks and want to verify your account number. They hope you will give it to them. Soon they have all the information they need to rob you.”

Fleming was angry enough to write the newspaper. The telephone scams sometimes go hand in glove with thieves’ access to stolen mail.

Fleming says: “Be alert! If it is from SSI or any other government office they will notify you by mail. Do not give any personal information to anyone over the phone no matter who they tell you they are.”

Because there have been mail thefts in the past three weeks throughout this region, from Castaic up to Bakersfield, it is wise to be extra cautious.

FBI Advice

“The FBI told me to call you,” Brenda Martin said on Tuesday, Aug. 18 when she called the editor of The Mountain Enterprise about the Walmart MoneyGram scam. “The FBI said we should let everyone know any way we can that this is going on.”

The voice on the other end of the phone the evening they were leaving for their vacation was distressed, which accounted for the voice not sounding completely familiar, Martin said. “And we were upset too.” The caller posing as their grandson said he had flown to Vancouver to attend a concert and had an accident in a rental car.

“He said he needed $5,900 to pay for damages so he could be released from police custody,” she relates, adding that he asked that they send the money within two hours (apparently not aware of how distant Pine Mountain is from urban banks and a Walmart). They told their “grandson” to call his uncle in Woodland Hills for the “pick-up number” for the MoneyGram in two hours. They quickly finished packing and dashed to Valencia to buy the Money-Gram on their way to begin their trip. “My husband sent him $6,000 to give him a little extra, and it cost $120 to buy it, so we spent $6,120 to send this,” Martin said.

As it turned out, distance was the saving grace for the Martin family. They were delayed, and when the thief called his “uncle” for the pickup number, the uncle didn’t have it. “The crook didn’t call back,” Martin said.

When they called their grandson’s home in Temecula, to their surprise it was he who answered the phone. Although the Martins had already sent the money to Vancouver, they were able to reclaim it from Walmart.

“They are calling people in nursing homes with this scam,” Martin said. “The FBI and the Canadian authorities want us to warn everyone we can.”

This is part of the August 22, 2008 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.

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