Phone scams on rise in area

Published 6:50 pm Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Getting an unexpected call from a grandson in the middle of the day should be a joy for grandparents. But for Tryon resident Eleanor

Galkowski it was troubling last week when she received what she thought was a call from her grandson, Ian.

“He called and said he was in Mexico City and had been arrested and needed $1,500 to bail him out,” Galkowski said.

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The story the person on the phone gave her was that he had traveled down to Mexico City with his friend Matthew and Matthew’s brother who was getting married. While there Matthew had supposedly gotten too drunk to drive so her grandson said he drove and they were in a minor accident, which caused him to be arrested for a DUI.

The man on the phone told Galkowski that he needed $1,500 for bail money.

Galkowski said she explained to the person she thought was her grandson that she didn’t have that kind of money. The man pleaded with her further and she offered to go as far as trying to get a loan against her car to scrounge up the funds.

This wouldn’t work, the man told her. Galkowski said the man posing as her grandson begged her to help him and when she told him to call his mother, he said he couldn’t because he only had one phone call.

Once the man realized she had no money, he hung up on her.

Galkowski said the Tryon Police Department came to her home to talk with her about the incident and said they have heard of many people falling victim to similar calls.

Police Chief Jeff Arrowood said the frequency of such calls comes and goes.

He said the area will receive rounds of them for several weeks and then nothing for months. He said they do this to catch people off guard.

“These people just prey on people and they are very aggressive, especially if they get any money. Then they are relentless – they’ll call 10, 15, 20 times a day,” Arrowood said. “Once someone sends the money, off it goes to another country. There is no getting it back.”

Arrowood said the people posing as grandkids or sweepstakes organizations are incredibly convincing. It also doesn’t help that they often utilize a call center so it looks like an American number instead of one from Jamaica, Canada or Nigeria. Arrowood said they can be calling from anywhere in the world and people just wouldn’t know.

He said the most recent scam involves sweepstakes holdings. He said the scammer will call and convince the person on the other line to give them their check routing number so they can transfer their winnings – often saying they’ve won millions. The trick is they will then take hundreds, if not thousands, out of the person’s bank account.

“The ones we have been getting are people calling telling people they’ve won a sweepstakes and if they will send $3,000 they will win $3 million,” Arrowood said. “Some people have given lots of money and really believe that they are going to get lots of money in return. It’s hard to convince them they aren’t going to receive anything – that’s when we get the family involved.”

Arrowood suggested families have numbers changed. He also suggests having serious conversations with elderly family members.

“They need to know that if it sounds too good to be true it really probably is. The best thing to do is just hang up on them,” he said. “If they do have any questions they can call the police department and let us know what is going on.”

Galkowski said she doesn’t want to see grandparents or retirees taken for money, especially when so many are actually on fixed incomes.

“They are calling people here because they know it’s a retirement area,” she said. “They think they can call grandparents and try and extort a lot of money from them.”