CHARLESTON -- West Virginia Attorney General Darrell McGraw is warning grandparents across the state to beware of another round of the so-called "grandparents scam."
In this scam, con artists pose as grandchildren in need and place phone calls to grandparents, asking them to send money via wire services or money orders.
West Virginia isn't the only state to report the scam. Michigan, Ohio, Florida and Delaware are among those that have been targeted recently.
McGraw, in a news release Friday, pointed to Nellie Harper of Charleston, who earlier this week received such a call. The would-be swindler asked his "grandmother" for financial help, saying he had been in a serious car accident in Winchester, Va.
Harper's husband had answered the call, but couldn't understand the caller. "I'll let you talk to Mawmaw," he said, handing the phone off to Harper.
When Harper got on the line, the "grandson" was bawling uncontrollably and she could barely understand him, she said. He told her he was taking his friend Jimmy to North Carolina when they got into a bad accident and Jimmy "didn't make it."
Harper said the caller went on to say that he had been speeding, he needed money to get the charges reduced and not to tell anybody about the accident or money.
"I was terrified," Harper told the Attorney General's Office. "My grandkids are everything to me. I don't think anyone would want to hear a grandchild upset to the point where they can barely catch their breath."
Then Harper started to think the call could be a hoax.
"The caller didn't just sound like my grandson, even though his crying disguised the voice. Why would he call me and not his mother? And who was Jimmy? I calmed down and told him, I'm not sending any money.
"He kept asking for some, and that really made me angry," she said. "Finally he said, 'I guess I'll just have to call somebody else.' 'Well I guess you will!' I said. And he hung up."
A call to her real grandson confirmed he was fine.
"To avoid becoming a victim, grandparents need to be completely certain that the person on the other end of the phone is in fact their grandchild," McGraw said in a statement.
Since 2009, McGraw's office said it has received 44 complaints involving the scam.
In the summer of 2009, scammers targeted grandparents in Hurricane. Last year, fake telephone calls asking for money hit the state's Eastern Panhandle. The scammers usually asked for money to be wired via Western Union, the Attorney General's Office said.
Once transferred funds have been picked up by the crooks, Western Union is unable to return any money to those who believed they were sending it to help family members, McGraw explained.
"Be suspicious of any request you get over the telephone asking you to transfer money via wire services," the attorney general warned. "We are asking employees at locations that issue wire transfers to be vigilant and keep an eye out for this type of fraudulent activity."
In addition to verifying the identity of the person on the other end of the phone, McGraw suggests grandparents take several steps to protect themselves:
* Consider clues to whether the call is legitimate. For instance, does your caller ID show the number as "private?"
* Don't offer information. If the caller says, "Hi Grandpa, this is your grandson speaking," be sure to ask, "Which one?" Typically, if a scam artist is questioned, he will hang up;
* Offer to call your grandchild back; and
* Don't give out bank account numbers, credit card numbers, social security numbers or any personal identification numbers over the phone.
From Legal Newsline: Reach Jessica Karmasek by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.