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The Atlanta Legal Aid Society has represented Atlanta's poor in civil legal cases since 1924. Our work helps our clients deal with some of life's most basic needs -- a safe home, enough food to eat, a decent education, protection against fraud, and personal safety. Our clients come from Clayton, Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton, and Gwinnett Counties in Georgia.
The Grandma Scam
The telephone rang at about 9:30 a.m.
"Grandma? I'm in Atlanta. I need help."
It was a male voice, quivering and shaky.
I have two grown grandsons.
I may have answered, "Brian?" It sounded a bit more like that grandson, the one who travels a great deal.
He went on to tell me that he had gone to Atlanta to the funeral of a dear friend, that he had had a few beers afterwards, had driven a car, hit another car, injured the driver, and the air bag in his car had inflated and had broken his nose and hurt his jaw.
He had been arrested and was calling from jail
I interrupted several times, saying "It doesn't sound like you." He kept explaining that his nose was broken and he was having trouble talking.
He needed help, and pleaded with me to promise not to call his father.
"I won't lie to you Grandma, I did have a few beers, but I wasn't drunk."
He sounded incredibly stressed, in pain and upset.
The Public Defender had gotten him a Legal Aid lawyer who would call me. They'd taken his cell phone away and he had to get off the jail phone.
A few minutes later, the phone rang again. The Legal Aid lawyer was very calm and reassuring. Brian was hurt, but would be OK. He had talked to the judge, and if we could raise bail in a couple of hours, he'd release Brian, who would maybe have to do some community service, but wouldn't have a record. If we went past the few hours, the case would be re-assigned and he'd probably do some jail time.
Bail was $2,000. Brian only had $700 with him. Could I send $1,300 right away? It had to be sent by mailgram since the court didn't take checks or credit cards, I could send cash or use a debit card. I was told the RiteAid stores near me had mailgram machines, and I was to send the money to an "international bondsman" in the Dominican Republic.
I asked for his phone number, and the number of the Legal Aid Office and the Public Defender office. I called, and was told he did indeed work for them, and was in court.
So did I send the money?
Fortunately, although I am now 89 years old, I had worked at NBC News for many years as producer and writer for an investigative reporter, and had prepared hundreds of investigations, some of which had won me an Emmy and dozens of awards.
I knew I couldn't reach my grandson right away to check the story with him, so I looked up the Atlanta Legal Aid and District Attorney numbers on the Internet. My first call to Legal Aid told me what I was beginning to suspect.
"This is a scam. It's been worked on people all over the country." They suggested that I report it to the FBI, which I did.
Then the phone rang again. It was the phony Legal Aid lawyer asking, "What have you done?"
"What should I tell Brian?"
Me: Whatever you like.
I hear the phone slammed down.
No one is sure how many people have fallen for this story, because victims of what is known as the Grandmother Scam are often embarrassed to admit they fell for it.
They shouldn't be.
It is an extremely stressful and frightening experience.
These people are VERY good at what they do.
Often when I speak to senior citizens about scams targeting the elderly, they will ask me, "why do these scammers pick on senior citizens?" I usually reply that they do it for the same reason that Willie Sutton robbed banks -- because that is where the money is. Many seniors have saved all of their lives and lived frugally so that they would have enough to survive in their retirement years. They also grew up in a time when a person's word could be trusted. Unfortunately, there are people out there who will stop at nothing to dupe seniors out of their money. Here are some of the tips that I give to seniors on avoiding scams:
1. Do not answer the phone unless you recognize the number. I know that this is very difficult for anyone, but particularly for seniors who may be a little lonely. Scammers are so good that even getting a senior on the phone greatly increases their chances of success. I advise seniors to get Caller I.D. on their phone along with voicemail. If the call that they missed was important for them, they can always call back after they listen to the voicemail.
2. Do not open e-mails from people that you do not know. Opening an e-mail from someone that you do not know is similar to opening the door to your home and letting in a stranger.
3. If you do answer a phone call, DO NOT GIVE OUT PERSONAL INFORMATION. Do not give your date of birth, social security number or credit card information to anyone who calls you.
4. Contact the Georgia Senior Legal Hotline if you have doubts. If you receive something in writing, and are not sure whether it is a scam, please call the Georgia Senior Legal Hotline before sending any money or giving out personal information to the sender. You can reach the Georgia Senior Legal Hotline at (888) 257-9519.
5. Register your phone number on the Do Not Call registry. Registering on the Do Not Call list can prevent many calls from telemarketers. You can register online, or call 1-888-382-1222.
2013 RUN FOR JUSTICE
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