‘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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