Crime

‘Grandparent scam’ costs man $4,000 in iTunes gift cards

Woodford County Sheriff Wayne “Tiny” Wright showed Apple iTunes gift cards that were part of a “grandparent scam.” The phone scam cost an 81-year-old victim $4,000.
Woodford County Sheriff Wayne “Tiny” Wright showed Apple iTunes gift cards that were part of a “grandparent scam.” The phone scam cost an 81-year-old victim $4,000. gkocher1@herald-leader.com

Woodford County Sheriff Wayne “Tiny” Wright issued a warning Wednesday about a “grandparent scam” that cost one victim $4,000.

An 81-year-old Woodford County resident received a call Tuesday from a man who purported to be a deputy sheriff in North Carolina. The imposter said the Woodford man’s grandson was being held on a charge of possession of marijuana, and that $2,000 was required for the grandson’s release.

The Woodford County man, who does have a grandson living in North Carolina, told the Woodford sheriff’s office that he heard someone sobbing over the phone and thought it was his grandson. The caller instructed the grandfather to get $2,000 worth of Apple iTunes gift cards, which are typically redeemed for music, movies, apps or games.

The grandfather went to Kmart in Versailles, but there was a malfunction and the cards couldn’t be loaded with the dollar amount. So the grandfather went across the street to Kroger to buy the cards, Wright said.

After the grandfather got $2,000 in iTunes cards, he was told that additional cards were needed because North Carolina law enforcement had found cocaine in the grandson’s vehicle. So the grandfather bought an additional $2,000 in iTunes cards, Wright said.

“Kroger questioned why he was doing this, and they really didn’t want to do more than $2,000 for him,” Wright said. “I guess they felt something was up, but he convinced them that everything was OK, and they went ahead and processed them.”

The grandfather then relayed numbers from the cards over the phone to the imposter.

“He had to read the numbers to the bogus officer and the officer read it back to him,” Wright said. “They’re just getting the money. It’s just like a wire transfer. They’re making purchases with that.”

The phone number given to the grandfather was a cellphone number, Wright said.

“Chances are, it’s out of the country,” Wright said. “They were telling him, ‘Don’t tell anybody. If you tell anybody, it’s going to get complicated. We’re trying to keep this hush-hush to protect your grandson.’”

If any other Woodford County residents have been hit by the scam, they haven’t reported it, Wright said.

“No law enforcement agency will ever tell you, ‘Go to Kmart or Kroger and get an iTunes card for payment,’” Wright said. “Law enforcement is never going to collect money from you. That’s done through the court system.”

Similar types of so-called “grandparent scams” have been reported in the past in Kentucky and across the nation.

In 2011, scammers portrayed themselves as policemen or lawyers calling on behalf of a grandchild, the Kentucky Attorney General’s Office reported. Many calls originate overseas.

Instances of such imposter scams doubled from 2009 to 2013, costing Americans more than $73 million annually, according to the Federal Trade Commission. The trend has caught the attention of Congress, which has held hearings on the issue.

Seniors who receive such calls are encouraged to verify the caller’s identity and ask a question only the grandchild would be able to answer, or to contact a relative to verify the story.

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