Most of us think we are smart enough to never fall for a phone scam, like the fake IRS agent scammers who have been targeting taxpayers for three or four years now.
But when a caller claims to be a close relative in distress, all rationale can go out the window. Your pulse races, you want to help, and that is when you become a scam victim.
"Grandpa, I Need Your Help!"
Kurt Kohlmayer recently answered the phone, to hear a voice say "Grandpa, I need your help!"
The caller, who he assumed had to be his grandson Brett, explained that he had just been in a car accident. "I lost control of the car, Grandpa, I went into a yard, and through a fence," the caller said.
But the recent grad told Kohlmayer he didn't want his mom and dad to find out.
Instead, he desperately needed Grandpa to loan him money to pay for the fence and house he had damaged.
"The owner of the property wanted $2,000, so he wouldn't press any charges."
iTunes the Currency of Choice
So "Brett" instructed Kohlmayer to buy four $500 iTunes gift cards.
Kohlmayer did exactly that, driving to his local supermarket and purchasing the cards. He says he didn't even know what iTunes cards were, or how to use them.
His grandson called back, saying "Grandpa, did you get the cards?" Kohlmayer replied that he had. "He says well, give me the numbers."
So Kohlmayer read off the numbers, giving "Brett" the $2,000 he needed.
Only problem, the real Brett had not been in any accident. He was home, with his mother. And Kohlmayer had become another victim of the grandparent scam.
How the Scam Works
In years past, scammers would ask their victims to wire money via Western Union MoneyGram.
But MoneyGrams can be traced, and Western Union clerks now ask questions of people wiring several thousand dollars.
So gift cards, especially iTunes gift cards, have become the scammers currency of choice in recent months.
Kohlmayer's daughter-in-law Debbie says her father is not dumb, or getting soft, but says the scam is so slick in that it pulls a grandparent's heartstrings.
"Your'e preying on these people's emotions," she said. "This is a guy who adores his grandchildren, he'd give them an organ if they needed it."
So Debbie Kohlmayer is now on a daughter's mission, to protect her father and other Seniors: She wants all checkout clerks at supermarkets to all be trained to spot a scam in progress.
"I think its a warning to not only consumers but to retailers," she said. "Everyone in your morning huddle, you should be making your staff aware that if someone comes in asking about large amounts in gift cards, you need to question them."
She says if an 80 year old is buying hundreds of dollars in gift cards, involving a type of gift he doesn't even understand, like iTunes, you may be witnessing a grandparent being conned out of his life savings.
A grocery store spokeswoman told us their clerks are instructed about these scams. "Our cashiers do their best to be on the lookout for victim-assisted fraud," she said.
And she tells me they are now considering placing limits on how much money can be spent on gift cards, to hopefully crack down on cases like this.
In the meantime, warn your parents and grandparents, so you don't waste your money.
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