Aiken woman warns against ‘Grandparent Scam’

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News 12 First at Five / Wednesday, May 22, 2013

12 On Your Side

AIKEN, S.C. (WRDW) -- A couple weeks ago, 80-year-old Sally Hightower got an unusual phone call.

"I'm about half asleep, but I answer it, and this voice says, 'Hi, Grandma. It's Russell!' I said, 'Well you don't sound like Russell.' He said, 'Well, I have a cold,'" she said.

"Russell" told his grandmother he was in Colombia, South America, and had been caught driving drunk. The voice said he needed $2,200 wired to him or else he was going to jail, since the country has a no tolerance law.

"This is your grandchild, and all I could think of was I don't want him spending the night in a Colombian jail, for heaven's sake!" Hightower said.

She says a "lawyer" then picked up on the other end and told her to wire the money at a Western Union, and she did so inside the Food Lion on Richland Avenue, but after the transfer was said and done, she took out her phone.

"I had my grandson on speed dial, so I called his cellphone,” Hightower said. “He answers on the second ring. I said, 'Russell! Where are you and what are you doing?' I hear him say, 'I'm walking Raven.' That's their family dog!"

The real Russell was home in Evans. Hightower had been scammed by a telephone scheme where somehow someone used her grandson’s name to trick her.

"The senior citizens can be a little more vulnerable,” said Sgt. Jake Mahoney with the Aiken Department of Public Safety, where a report was filed.

Hightower says that's what the telephone tricksters played on. She says they also rushed her to get to Western Union because they told her she needed to have to money sent immediately, so her grandson could catch a plane the next day.

What would she say to her scammer?

"I don't know that I can use that language on TV or any other place! They are just ugly people that would do things like that,” Hightower said.

Hightower was lucky. She acted fast and got her money back, but she also got some advice from her real family member.

"He called me and he says, 'I cannot believe a woman with above average intelligence fell for that scheme.' And all I could think of was, 'Son, I am so glad you think I am above average intelligence!'" she said, laughing.

Mahoney says not to hesitate calling law enforcement if you ever run into a situation like this.

The Federal Bureau of Investigations has more tips to avoid this very common scam. Click here for more information.

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