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‘The Grandson Scam’ Costs Families Thousands

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PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Imagine getting a desperate phone call from a young relative. He’s in a foreign country in jail and needs money to get out. Would you help? That’s what scammers are counting on, and they’re getting away with hundreds of thousands of dollars.

When Sandee Feldman got a phone call early one morning, she knew who it was right away.

“It sounded like my grandson,” she said. “He used his name. He used my nickname.”

Her grandson said he was in Spain in jail and needed money. He explained what Sandee could do to help.

“Somebody from the embassy will come on the line and tell you where to send the money,” she recounted.

Sandee wired the money right away, $2800. Later, she found out that voice on the phone wasn’t her grandson at all.

“I mean, I just bought into it. I just bought into it,” she said.

Sometimes it’s called “the grandparent scam,” sometimes “the grandson scam,” but it’s the same idea: Criminals call, pretend to be a grandchild in trouble, and ask for money.

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Steve Baker of the Federal Trade Commission said, “They always want the money sent through Western Union or MoneyGram. The reason for that is once that money is gone, it’s almost untraceable.”

Almost untraceable. One suspected scammer is Anthony Ojo. Authorities say he went to cash places in Canada and picked up at least $643,000. Police say Ojo used a variety of fake names and IDs. Suspicious store employees tipped off police. Ojo is now being held in Philadelphia.

Richard Goldberg is the chief of economic crimes at the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

“The people who do this are really vultures,” he said. He says thieves will find out details about your family, nicknames, schools, sometimes from information shared online.

They’ll also ask to keep the call a secret — “Please don’t tell Mom and Dad!” — to make sure that the grandparents won’t check around to make sure the call is legitimate.

People who are victimized once are often victimized again. Authorities say one 84-year-old victim sent more than $128,000.

“A lot of times they will get somebody who will send $5,000, and once they know that you’ll send it, they’ll come back and ask for more and more and more,” said Goldberg.

Sandee Feldman is still shaken. She says the scam hurt her real grandson and real family.

“Well, that I caused such a commotion that wasn’t even true,” she said.

Anthony Ojo is awaiting trial on charges wire fraud. He pleaded not guilty.

If you’ve been scammed, file a report. Police agencies would like to hear from you. You never know if your case will crack the conspiracy.

Reported by Susan Barnett, CBS 3