Scammer claims to hold grandson for ransom

By: Cortney Casey | Sterling Heights Sentry | Published September 26, 2012

An unsuspecting resident was almost conned by a familiar phone scam with a sinister twist Sept. 24, when a mysterious caller claimed he was holding her adult grandson for ransom.


According to police, the unknown individual called the woman, a resident of Pond View, near 18 Mile and Dequindre, and demanded that she send nearly $4,000 via Western Union to ensure the grandson’s safe release.


The scammer ordered the victim not to tell anyone and allowed her to hear the voice of a man the woman thought could be her grandson, crying on the phone.


The woman withdrew the money from her account and attempted to wire it, but a Western Union employee informed her that it was a scam.


The woman subsequently made contact with the grandson and confirmed he had not been kidnapped, then replaced the money in her account.


Later, the suspect called back, asking if she’d sent the money as directed. When she said no, the suspect “seemed upset,” according to police.


Lt. Luke Riley of the Sterling Heights Police Department said it’s a new take on an old con. Often, callers will claim that a family member is in jail out of state or in another country and ask for bond money.


“We’ve had these Western Union scams before,” he said. “This one probably would have been successful, had not the Western Union clerk told this lady it was a scam and told her not to send the money.”


In the age of Facebook and Twitter, Riley said, people often post publicly where they’re going, and clever con artists can latch onto those details and manipulate them into a trick.


“They’re very skilled at saying the right things and playing this out, and it’s generally older people they prey on,” he said.


Riley said a good rule of thumb is verifying the health and safety of the allegedly imperiled person by contacting other relatives or friends who can confirm their whereabouts — no matter what the callers say about not telling anyone.


“If this happens to somebody, they need to contact another family member to help them find out if that family member (is OK),” he said. “Just don’t believe it right off the bat. There are ways to verify very quickly.”


Once money is sent, it’s very difficult to trace and recover it, especially since most of the cons involve other states or even other countries, added Riley.


He urged anyone who receives such a call to alert Sterling Heights police at (586) 446-2800.