(CBS News/CBS Local)– The government is releasing new information about a growing scam targeting older Americans. It tricks people into mailing cash to people pretending to be their grandchildren. Victims reportedly lose an average of $9,000.
“I’m the last person, I thought, would ever fall for a scam like this,” Franc Stratton told CBS News correspondent Anna Werner.
The retired Tennessean spent his career working in intelligence, first for the Air Force and later as a cybersecurity programmer. But his expertise still didn’t prepare him for the scam that began with a morning phone call in April.
“I hear, ‘Don’t be afraid, but I’m the public defender from Austin, Texas. They have put your grandson in jail after a wreck, and he has a DUI offense,'” Stratton said.
The man said Stratton could bail out his grandson if he sent $8,500 cash via FedEx, something that might sound ridiculous, except that Stratton had actually done just that for a family member once in the past.
Not only that, but the “attorney” briefly put his “grandson” – who sounded injured – on the phone. So Stratton drove to the bank.
“I wrote a check out, and they gave me $8,500 cash in hundreds,” Stratton said.
Then he went to a local mail location to overnight the money to an Austin address. Stratton said he fell for it “because of the way that they scripted it.”
“They had it so well scripted. They knew everything about my grandson. They knew everything about me,” Stratton said.
He’s not the only victim. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) said Americans lost up to $41 million in the scam this year, nearly twice as much as. The FTC said people 70 and older are increasingly being scammed, and the criminals do their research, sometimes using social media to learn more about their targets.
“Grandparents really care about their grandchildren. The grandchildren sound like they’re in terrible distress. They’re crying, they’re saying that they’ve been injured frequently and they’re begging their grandparent to help them,” FTC’s Monica Vaca said.
But back in Tennessee that night in April, Stratton said, “My wife and I looked at each other and said, ‘Scam.'”
So he called FedEx to have to package returned. While he got his money back, he said, “I’m a security person. And that’s what really frustrates me.”
“Because I fell for it,” Stratton added.
“Even you fell for it,” Werner said.
“Because of love,” he responded – something Stratton said every grandparent can fall victim to.
The FTC warns if you receive a call like this, get in touch with that family member or friend before sending anything. Be careful about what you post on social media because scammers can use those details.