‘Grandma scam’ thwarted

“Hi Grandpa. This is your oldest grandson ... I guess I’m going to need to ask for your help,” said the friendly, familiar voice on the other end of the phone.

“You’d better talk to your grandma about that,” answered Hood River resident John Codino, 81.

What began as a call from a distressed “grandson” turned into a lesson in confidence scams for Hood River residents John and Eileen Codino.

“It never dawned on me that I was talking to anyone but my grandson,” said Eileen, 80. “I wanted to tell people about this because if it could happen to me, it could happen to anyone.”

Last week’s phone call to the Codino household is what may now be called a typical “granny-scam” — a “con game” which involves convincing elderly residents that their grandchild is in trouble and in need of fast cash.

(Hood River News reported in February on a similar scam attempt — one thwarted by a local Western Union employee who called family members when an elderly woman she knew came to the counter to wire money.)

The stories may vary in detail, but always end up the same — with a request for bank account numbers, a wire transfer or delivery of cash in a hurry, and in secrecy.

“He told me he had taken off on a lark to Mexico City for a bachelor party and had run into difficulties,” said Eileen. “He said he was run off the road and hit a utility pole and was being detained ... the police wouldn’t take a check or his credit card and he was being held until he could pay the bail.”

That story, full of detail, was delivered after a bit of initial chit-chat in which the caller increased Eileen’s “confidence” in his identity as her grandson.

Eventually, the well-crafted story lead to the intended pay-off, a request for $2,400 and for grandma Eileen to “keep it quiet” from the caller’s parents.

When Eileen said she didn’t have the money and referred the caller back to his grandpa John, the con-man’s work began to fall apart.

John, a retired journalist, was beginning to suspect a rat after listening to Eileen’s conversation over the phone and reflecting on the initial details he’d heard from the caller.

“I just got to thinking about everything I’ve seen and read on the Internet about these kind of scams,” said John. “I got to thinking how none of my grandsons would be in Mexico City for a bachelor party.”

John then took the phone and said to the caller, “This is a scam, isn’t it?”

The caller tried one more time. “No grandpa, it isn’t.”

But John made the accusation again and then hung up.

“I started to think ‘Something just doesn’t seem right,’” said John, who later reported the con attempt to Hood River City Police.

“They told me this was a very common story,” said John. “And, there is no way to follow up since there is never a phone number.”

“I can see how people get scammed,” said Eileen. “I still wasn’t sure if it was or wasn’t our grandson even after John hung up.”

Eileen eventually called, a few hours later, to check with her daughter-in-law (and grandson’s mother).

“I didn’t want to betray a confidence,” noted Eileen, whose reaction is what con-men count on. Fear of giving away a grandchild’s secret prevents many intended victims from double-checking the facts.

Once she did check, it turned out as predicted — no grandson in Mexico City.

“It’s a little embarrassing to admit this happened to me,” said Eileen.

“But it’s not embarrassing to still have the $2,400 they didn’t get,” concluded John.

According to scam-prevention websites, families can help prepare themselves for phone scams first and foremost by agreeing not to respond to requests for money by telephone — even from family members.

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Parkdale third graders sing "12 Disaster Days of Christmas"

Welcome to your sing-able Christmas gift list. What follows is an emergency rendition of “12 Days of Christmas” – for outfitting your home or car in case of snow storm, earthquake, flood or other emergency. Read it as a simple list, or sing it to the tune of “12 Days” – you know, as in “ … and a partridge in a pear tree…” Not to make light of it, but the song is a familiar framework for a set of gift ideas that you could consider gathering together, even if the recipient already owns items such as a bunch of coats, tire chains and flashlights. Stores throughout the Gorge are stocked up on all these items. Buying all 12 days might be prohibitive, but here are three ideas for checking any of the dozen off your list (notations follow, 1-12.) The gift items needed to stay warm, dry and safe are also coded to suggest items in your abode (A) in your car (C) or both (B). 12 Gallons of Water (A) 11 Family meals (B) 10 Cans of propane (A) 9 Hygiene bags (B) 8 Packs of batteries (A) 7 Spare coats (B) 6 Bright red flares (C) 5 Cozy blankets (B) 4 Tire chains (C) 3 Flashlights (B) 2 cell phone chargers (B) 1 And a crush-proof first aid kit (B) Price ranges? Here’s a few quotes for days Three, Two, Four and Nine: n A family gift of flashlights (three will run $15-30, Hood River Supply, Tum-A-Lum) n Cell phone chargers (two will run $30-60) n Tire chains (basic set, $30, Les Schwab, returnable if unused for the winter) n Family meals ($100 or so should cover the basics for three or four reasonably well-fed days) n The home kit should be kept in a handy place near an exit, and remember that water needs to be replenished every few months. If you have a solid first aid kit already, switch out the gift idea with “and-a-sto-o-u-t- tub-for it-all …” Otherwise, it’s a case of assembling your home or car kits and making sure all members of the family know what the resources are and how to use them (ie flares and propane). Emergency situations are at worst life-threatening, at best deeply uncomfortable if you and your family are left without power for an extended period, or traveling and find yourself in a situation where you need to wait out a storm, lengthy traffic delay, or other crisis. Notes on the 12 gift ideas: 12 – Gallons of water: that’s one per person in a four-member family to last for three days, the recommended minimum to be prepared for utility outages. 11 – Easy-open packaged goods, energy bars, dried food and nuts are good things to include for nutrition. Think of what your family of four needs for three days to stay fortified and hydrated (see number 12). Can-opener also recommended 10 – If you have a propane camping stove, keep extra fuel handy. 9 – Hygiene bags: put packaged moistened towelettes, toilet paper, and plastic ties in large garbage bags (for personal sanitation) Resource list courtesy of Hood River County Emergency Management, Barbara Ayers, manager/ 541-386-1213. The county also reminds residents to Get a Kit, Make A Plan to connect your family if separated, and Stay Informed. See www.co.hood-river.or.us to opt-in for citizen alerts. Enlarge

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