By Sean Wardwell
Killeen Daily Herald

About three weeks ago, 79-year-old Wanda Jenkins got an unexpected telephone call that nearly cost her thousands.

“The voice (on the line) said ‘Hi, Grandma. This is your favorite grandson,'” said Jenkins, who lives in Killeen.

The caller continued the conversation by saying he was currently in San Diego for a friend’s wedding but was arrested for assault after trying to defend himself against an attacker. The person told Jenkins he wasn’t in trouble but was liable for his attacker’s injuries. Since he didn’t have insurance, he needed $2,800 immediately.

“I told him I didn’t have it and the phone went dead,” Jenkins recalled Friday. “I called my grandson back and he said, ‘Grandma, I haven’t been talking to you.’ It dawned on me what happened.”

Jenkins was almost a victim of “the grandparent scam,” which is one of several methods criminals use to prey on elderly people who are often trusting and less likely to report crimes, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Recently, successful scams were reported in Belton, said Detective Sgt. Larry Berg, of the Belton Police Department. Con artists were able to convince three people to send nearly $10,000.

“(The money from our cases) was wired to Mexico City,” he said. “Once it’s sent (over the wire), you’re not getting it back. The money isn’t insured.”

Jenkins said she would have sent money, too, if she had it because of concern for the caller posing as her grandson.

“People who grew up in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s were generally raised to be polite and trusting,” according to the FBI’s common fraud scheme website. “Con artists exploit these traits, knowing that it is difficult or impossible for these individuals to say ‘no’ or just hang up the telephone.”

Berg said this kind of scam has the potential to generate millions of dollars annually and, due to the intricacy of the scam, it is exceedingly difficult to pursue and prosecute the offenders. He said law enforcement investigators don’t know how the con artists are getting people’s personal information, but it is “very accurate.”

The important thing to do, according to local law enforcement officials, is never divulge any information, even if the caller seems believable, and report the attempt to the police.

“If you don’t know who (the caller is), don’t give them anything,” said Carroll Smith, spokesperson for the Killeen Police Department.