An elderly woman in Medicine Lodge answered the telephone last week and was enthusiastically greeted, “hi, Grandma.”


An elderly woman in Medicine Lodge answered the telephone last week and was enthusiastically greeted, “hi, Grandma.”

“Hi, honey, how are you?” she replied, at the same time thinking it really didn’t sound like Chris, but she hears from Sam less often.

Then the caller explained his plight: he was in jail and needed money. Grandma said she couldn’t send money. He questioned, “why not?”

“Because I’m broke,” she replied, knowing then that neither of her grandsons would ask such a question. The caller hung up on her.

Dee Horton was a target — but not a victim — of a scam.

In other versions of the scam, the purported grandchild is in another country and has been robbed, his car has been impounded or wrecked, or he needs money for tuition. There is always a sense of urgency and sometimes a plea to keep the situation a secret from parents. The caller may have personal information gained from social networking sites..

The scammer is looking for someone who will respond with the heart, not the head. And they find them. A newspaper in Claremore, Okla., reported earlier this month that an elderly couple had been taken for more than $5,000.

Stephen M. Howe, district attorney for the Johnson County Economic Crime Unit, issued an alert last January, warning seniors about the scam. Some tips he offered were:

• Don’t fill in the blanks for the scammer. Ask which grandchild; don’t ask if it is Tommy or Susan, for example.

• Verify the caller. Confirm your grandchild’s identity by saying you will return the call at his or her cell phone. If you don’t have the cell phone number, get it from their parents.

• Contact family members and confirm the whereabouts of your grandchildren.

• Don’t give out account information to an unknown caller and be extremely suspicious of requests for wired money.

Captain Gary Myers, who said the Pratt Police Department had not received complaints about the so-called grandparent scam, confirmed what we know — “there are people out there trying to hook you all the time.”

Reports to Pratt Police are most often in connection with online auction fraud, versions of the Nigerian scam, where the target is sent a check with instructions to deposit it and send a portion back to the sender, or callers supposedly representing federal agencies.

“Don’t be intimidated by someone representing themselves as IRS or the Department of Revenue,” Myers said, adding that he had received a call that he had made an error on an earlier tax return and owed additional money. Instead of responding to the phone number in the letter, he called the “real IRS” and learned that the agency had never contacted him.

People have also reported calls from someone claiming to be investigating a local bank and requesting confirmation of accounts.

“Don’t ever give out account information unless you made the call,” Myers warned.

He also explained that it is possible to buy a phone number generator online. People who routinely block toll-free numbers will pick up the phone when caller identification shows a local exchange. The caller could be someone who says they’re representing a Pratt insurance company, for example, but they’re actually in Pakistan.

Myers has been the victim of identity theft twice, once as a result of using a credit card online. Either the site was unsecured, or the company had a dishonest employee. The other occasion resulted when a new credit card was mailed to his old address and then sold in Wichita.

A clear credit card will bring $100 on the street, he said, and more than $5,000 in merchandise was charged within two days.

“It (identity theft) can happen to anyone, even a cop who teaches prevention,” Myers concluded. “Use good common sense. A simple rule of thumb is do not give out personal information to anyone who contacts you.”