MOUNT VERNON — For one Knox County resident, her feelings of personal security and safety were things she took for granted. After all, she grew up in a society where doors were never locked and even neighbors were free to come and go from her parents’ home to use the only telephone in the neighborhood. She continued to live her life with an unconditional trust in humanity. Unfortunately, she now feels like something has been stolen from her, something more valuable than the money.
“It’s scary,” she said. “Not so much the money I lost. It’s done something to my own identity. I can’t say how I feel but I’m different.”
The story is rather twisted and scary in its own right, something that seems more like fiction than fact. The victim in this scenario wanted to tell her story to warn others of the malicious nature of schemers, so that our readers might not fall prey to such attempts; but she did not publically want to reveal her identity.
She said on a Friday she received a phone call from her grandson.
“He said there had been a bad accident. He was in Canada; they wouldn’t accept his insurance and needed money now,” she said.
The man on the phone sounded like her grandson and she didn’t think twice to jump to his aid.
“It sounded just like [him],” she said. “He said, ‘Please, Grandma, don’t tell my family. I don’t want them to worry. I’ll get your money as soon as I get home.’”
The man pretending to be her grandson, gave her instructions on how to wire him the money using Western Union. She went to her bank, made a withdrawal and sent the money. On Saturday, he called her twice with additional reasons for even more money.
“Looking back on it, I feel so foolish and embarassed that I was taken, that I wasn’t smart enough to know I was being taken advantage of,” she said.
What she can’t believe is how much this swindler seemed to know about her and her family to make the connection. No last names are shared and the caller even knew the name her grandchildren call her — information a stranger wouldn’t have access to.
“I can’t help but feeling that someone who knows us is involved,” she said.
While this continues to be an ongoing investigation, Knox County Sheriff David Barber couldn’t talk about specifics of the case, he did tell the News that this case is unlike anything his office has seen before.
“What is so strange about this situation is that [the perpetrator] was actually able to get money by impersonating a family member,” said Barber. “This case is definitely on the unusual side.”
Unfortunately, it seems senior citizens are targets for those looking to turn a fraudulent buck.
“Most people are too trusting,” Barber said. “Especially of someone representing themselves as family members. Older folks are just so good hearted and trusting they’ll do anything to help.”
Barber explained that it is often difficult to work with law enforcement agencies in foreign countries just because office’s like his don’t have the contacts in places like Canada, Mexico or South America. He said that his department did find success working with the Federal Bureau of Investigations during a debit card scheme in Gambier last year because the FBI has the right connections. In cases like this one, the amount was under $100,000 so the FBI would not get involved.
There are things that can be done, Barber said, to provide peace of mind if area residents are put in a similar situation.
“If in doubt, ask the caller for a personal identifier such as their dog’s name, birthdate or mother’s maiden name,” he said. “You should also ask for a call back number to verify where the call is coming from.”
From the woman who learned a hard lesson through the scam, she offers this advice, “Make sure you know what your family is doing and be aware this type of thing is going on,” she said. “Looking back with hind sight, I guess I saw things that should have been red flags. I have to accept the fact that someone is having fun with my money, pull up my socks and go on.”