A telephone rings, and when the elderly woman answers, a muffled voice asks if it is “grandma.”
She confirms and asks if it is Michael, her grandson, to whom she is speaking. He confirms that he is her grandson, and then tells her he has been arrested while on vacation and needs bail money — a total of $700.
“Please don’t tell my parents,” the voice asks then instructs her on where to wire the money.
The problem: “Michael” is not her grandson, but a con artist who is now $700 richer.
The “grandparent scam” is a common one, said Jon Miller Steiger, the regional director for the Federal Trade Commission, after the undercover recording ended.
“Cons are pros,” Steiger said standing in front of more than a dozen senior citizens in the Girard Multigenerational Center’s gymnasium.
The visit Tuesday, along with an appearance by Victor Russell, the regional manager for Consumer Credit Counseling, was part of a free seminar at the center on how senior citizens can prevent being scammed.
The office of U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, D-Avon, sponsored the event.
“One of the best ways to fight financial fraud is to stay informed about the risk,” Brown said in a video played in the gym.
He said fraud costs people $2 billion a year.
Russell said it’s important to check your credit report throughout the year, partly to ensure no one has stolen your identification and is using your credit.
“Make sure what’s in your credit report is accurate,” he added.
Steiger said the FTC builds a database of scams. When they see a trend, they begin to investigate. Because FTC staffing is so small — Steiger said as regional director he oversees eight states with 15 employees — they rely heavily on people calling in scams.
They also rely on people educating others on how to prevent being a scam victim.
“I’m counting on each of you to tell what you’ve learned today,” Steiger said. “Tell your friends about it, and tell your family about it.”