My grandmother was defrauded by a pair of con artists pretending to be me. Who can I report this crime to?
January 20, 2011 11:27 PM   Subscribe

My grandmother was just defrauded by a pair of con artists who, pretending to be me, told her that I was in a car accident in Canada and needed her to wire money. She's fine, but lost a few thousand dollars. She said that she doesn't mind losing the money (she's just happy I'm safe), and doesn't want to be bothered by the police. I respect that decision, but I'm concerned that if let off the hook, the con artists in question will be able to prey on others -- they are obviously targeting elderly people. Who can I report this fraud to? (Additionally, and out of curiosity -- any thoughts on how they discovered my relationship with my grandmother?)

Details of the con: A man claiming to be me (I'm 27) called my grandmother and tearfully told her that I was involved in a car accident in Canada. He then gave the phone to a "lawyer", who asked her to wire money to help me. She's a sharp woman, but they were very convincing and pushed all the right buttons -- they said that they called her because she was "most likely to be home" (actually true, since my parents commute frequently between cities and aren't always easy to reach), and that she shouldn't tell my parents because I wanted to be the one to tell them. It wasn't until one of my cousins (who live near her) remembered that she had seen a Facebook post of mine that day that she realized it was a con.

I'm curious ask to how they found enough information about me, her, and our relationship to pull off the con. Presumably they grabbed a database somewhere -- maybe something listed emergency contacts? She also remarked a number of times that "He sounded just like you", and while the low fidelity of a phone call, the degradation of hearing as one ages, and the talking-through-tears certainly helped, I certainly have enough videos on the Internet that they could have done a little homework and mimicked my voice -- and anyone who's good enough at social engineering to pull off this con certainly has a bit of acting ability. This strikes me as an interesting and unsettling unanticipated (for me, at any rate) side-effect of self-publishing on the internet -- the more information about you that exists and is easy to access, the easier you are to impersonate.
posted by tweebiscuit to Law & Government (18 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Back to my original question: I live in New York. My grandmother lives in Utah, and the con artists were in Canada, as was the location she wired the money to. Which agency would be most appropriate to report this crime to, and how could I do so without troubling my grandmother? (I could potentially convince her to cooperate, especially if I initiate the process myself, but in general, I'd like to respect her wishes in the matter and keep her involvement minimal.)
posted by tweebiscuit at 11:35 PM on January 20, 2011

You could start by asking the people who work at the place she wired the money to, and also the wire service should know the proper avenues for you to pursue. They may indeed give you grief over you not being the person who sent the money, but you can offer to conference her in if everybody's amenable to it. This sucks, I hope you get them!
posted by rhizome at 11:56 PM on January 20, 2011

Canada's a big place. Where, specifically?
posted by dobbs at 12:10 AM on January 21, 2011

Best answer: I applaud you for wanting to help your grandmother and prevent future victims from being conned, but the chances are very good that they have covered their tracks quite well. The money was probably immediately transferred from wherever you wired it to a stolen bank account overseas, likely someplace like Russia, and the call may have originated there as well.

There could have been a person involved locally, but they may themselves have been a victim in an advance-fee con and innocently laundered the crooks' money for them.

Many people put enough info on Facebook that give out answers to basic questions about relatives, birth dates, home towns, and so forth. Try not to do that. Make sure you have strong enough passwords on FB and e-mail accounts that they can't be compromised easily (e.g. by answering a security question the answer to which is on FB; somebody just pleaded guilty for perpetrating that to steal women's nude photos and harass and extort them).

The "robbed in London" (common implementation) scam arose only about a year or two ago and has already become a favored one of con artists. It's a variant of the advance fee type of con, itself a descendant of the venerable Spanish prisoner con, which the London scam closely resembles. In short, it's as old as the hills, and it persists because it works just often enough.
posted by dhartung at 12:11 AM on January 21, 2011 [1 favorite] page about this very scam
posted by Because at 2:48 AM on January 21, 2011

It's called "The Grandson Scam" W5, a Canadian section of CTV news had a special about it and I'm pretty sure they answered all your questions in it.

Sorry to hear granny got scammed!
posted by pick_the_flowers at 3:55 AM on January 21, 2011

Sites such as and have much family information available for free, culled from publicly available information, and offer more through paid services.
posted by megatherium at 4:09 AM on January 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

There is a similar scam that has been round for a while in Japan. They call it the ore ore scam, which translates to the "it's me" scam. Basically they just call up anyone, and when the person who picks up the phone asks who's calling they say "ore!ore!" or "it's me!". If the scammer is lucky enough to have found a good mark-that is someone who just happens to have a son, grandson or the like that has a voice similar enough to theirs. Then the person will say something like "oh, is that you Taro?". The scammer answers in the affirmative, and then blubs some sob story about being kidnapped by the yakuza and needing money right away.

Is it possible that you're gran fell for a similar sort of scam, in which case they probably didn't need any extra information about your relationship?
posted by ultrabuff at 5:01 AM on January 21, 2011 [4 favorites]

If it helps, one of the hallmark of this con, versus many others, which rely on the greed of the mark to make the con work, is that it relies on the niceness and concern the mark has for their family members. While your grandmother is probably very embarassed to have been taken (something con men rely on to not get caught), it might help you convince her to help with the report if you frame it for her that way -- someone took advantage of her great love and concern for you to steal her money, and they shouldn't get away with doing that to anyone else.
posted by jacquilynne at 5:52 AM on January 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

Report it to the US Federal Trade Commission.
posted by yarly at 6:18 AM on January 21, 2011

More for future readers of this post:

This happened to my parents in college. And it was exacerbated by my phone not having power. (Sorry, mom and dad!)

My great aunt gave the con artists my parents' phone number, I believe by saying they were friends but had lost the most recent one. Then they called my parents and impersonated me, saying I was stuck in San Bernardino and could they wire me money to fix my car. San Bernadino was the first tip-off that something was up, as I went to college on the East Coast. And the chick didn't really sound like me, but maybe it was me drugged up and being forced to speak. My mom then asked if "I" could tell her the secret word that we had set up when I was a kid, so if in some emergency situation a stranger had to pick me up, I would know it was okay. "I" tried to talk my mom out of needing to know, but then gave up.

Moral of the story: have secret words with your family members!

We never found out who these people were, or how they had contacted my great-aunt. I know my impulse would be to find these assholes and prosecute, but I think it would be really, really difficult.
posted by emkelley at 6:24 AM on January 21, 2011 [6 favorites]

Same thing happened with my grandmother and some scammers in Canada. The story was that my brother had driven up to the Toronto Film Festival, gotten arrested for drunk driving, and needed to be bailed out. Luckily she didn't end up sending money for a variety of reasons.

My guess is that they look through the phone book for older-sounding names, then call and say "hi, this is your grandson" or something generic like that.
posted by Slinga at 7:26 AM on January 21, 2011

I dont know how helpful they'll be but you can report it to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre

They also have information about this type of thing on the site.
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 7:57 AM on January 21, 2011

She said that she doesn't mind losing the money (she's just happy I'm safe), and doesn't want to be bothered by the police. I respect that decision, but I'm concerned that if let off the hook, the con artists in question will be able to prey on others -- they are obviously targeting elderly people. Who can I report this fraud to?

It sounds like you don't respect her decision, as you are trying to circumvent it. I think that you are doing the right thing in reporting this, but you may want to let her know what you are up to. It is possible that she will be contacted by police, despite her telling you that she does not want to be bothered by them.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 9:12 AM on January 21, 2011

These guys might be able to help. They scam the scammers and are very experienced with this sort of thing. But it sounds like you're a bit short on information. Maybe post on their forums asking essentially the same thing you did here?
posted by RolandOfEld at 10:57 AM on January 21, 2011 is the link I was trying to post... dunno how I managed to muff things up.
posted by RolandOfEld at 10:58 AM on January 21, 2011

This con was attempted on my mom too. They pretended to be her college-aged grandson (my son) and had a similar m.o. I think they said "It's me." and she responded with "Grandson Name?" Luckily she got suspicious and they ended up hanging-up. She did call the local police but there isn't much they can do except log it. My mom was really upset and didn't even suffer a financial loss, it was the thought of how easy it was that scared her.

I suggested that she let the local Senior Citizens' Center know about the call so they can let other Seniors know of the scam. Often the Seniors have a newsletter where information like this can be disseminated.

Also if her town has a local paper have her contact a reporter. Not to have her name in the paper, but to get the word out to others. My local paper had a short paragraph warning people about this.

Please let your grandmother know she's not alone with this con.
posted by JohntheContrarian at 4:01 PM on January 21, 2011

Just wanted to chime in to say this happened to my grandmother (in the US), with someone calling her pretending to be me and asking for money. Fortunately, although she believed it was me, she referred the scammer to an uncle of mine that handles her money. After that, no one heard from the scammer again.

For various reasons, it's extremely unlikely the scammer could have gotten any personal information about me, so I assume that what happened was some variation of the ore-ore scam.
posted by dephlogisticated at 4:07 PM on January 21, 2011

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