A scam so familiar to law enforcement that it has a name is being tried on senior residents of Santa Clarita, but some of them are getting smarter and nipping the potential crime in the bud.
Unfortunately, the bad guys can shift their games and simply take money from innocent victims. Sheriff's officials are trying to stop the crime before it starts, but advise a lot depends on the intended targets.
"We've heard of them before, common scams targeting seniors," said Lt. Brenda Cambra of the Santa Clarita Valley Station. "We advise anyone against being involved in anything where you're supposed to go get money because it's a scam - also, anything that looks too good to be true is a scam."
The "grandma scam" goes something like this: A grandparent gets a call from someone who tells them that their grandchild - who they name and have some basic information about - is in trouble and needs money.
"We always hear 'but they knew my grandchild's name' as some way of giving credence to the scam, but it's really easy for the bad guys to get that information," Cambra said.
The grandparents, wanting to be helpful, often agree to do whatever it takes, without taking the extra step of trying to contact the grandchild directly. The caller may dissuade them, creating some fictitious situation or conditions. The senior citizen then goes or is taken to the bank, money is withdrawn and handed over to strangers, who disappear with the cash.
"I've heard of five or six incidents recently where seniors have been victimized," said Rev. Stan Fix, pastor of a Friendly Valley church. "Some did not get taken because the bank caught it, but some were not so fortunate."
Several of the victims spoke with KHTS. Their identities are not being revealed because of the sensitivity of the situation.
"A week ago, I was gone from my house, but when I came home, I couldn't believe the look on my husband's face," one woman explained. "He said our granddaughter was in trouble and we needed to go to the bank and get $3,600, go to WalMart and get a money order and give these people on the phone the number.
"We went to the bank, but when we were talking to the teller, the bank manager heard us and said 'don't do it, it's a scam' and she called the police.'"
The same woman said that the scammer called her back and she wanted to hear the details for herself, telling the caller her husband didn't hear well.
"He repeated everything and I told him we'd been to the bank and told him to just knock it off and he hung up. I'm telling everyone to pass it around because there's about 4 or 5 different scams out there."
Another woman got a phone call from someone who sounded just like her grandson saying he 'had a problem' and needed her help, but she sensed something was amiss.
"When he named where he was, it was a little bit off, so my logic kicked in instead of my emotion," she explained. She didn't let the crook get any further in his spiel, but still got hurt.
"The hardest part about this was that I was so excited to hear his voice, only to have it be this," she said.
One victim wasn't lucky enough to stop before she took a financial hit.
A resident of Friendly Valley whose closest family is a son on the East Coast got a call early one morning from a man who said he represented her bank where someone was trying to get her money.
"He said they thought they knew who it was, but they needed my help," she said. "I was to go to my bank, take my last statement, withdraw $5,800 out of my account and put it in an envelope.
"They had a taxi waiting outside the bank to take me to a store where I was supposed to meet a man standing outside. I saw a man who looked like somebody and he asked for the envelope, which I gave him."
The victim was then told to go inside the store and ask the manager to call a taxi to take her home, which she did. After she got home, she was upset, but still answered a call from the suspect who told her she 'did very well.'
"I figured I can't do wrong by calling the police, so I did," she continued. "They sent two policewomen later that day."
Since then, she's been telling her friends about the experience, cautioning them to beware.
"I'll share my story with everybody," she said. "Especially those with no family. Those guys know who to look for."