‘Emergency scam’ making rounds

SANDPOINT — An unfortunately common scam is rearing its head again in Bonner County.

Residents are reporting receiving phone calls from a grandchild who ran afoul of the law in Mexico and needs cash fast to bond out of jail.

Hope resident Brian McCarthy received such a call Wednesday and the voice on the other end, while hysterical with worry, actually sounded like his granddaughter.

She explained that her friend had been killed by a drunken driver in Mexico and she went to the country with the girl’s father to deal with the aftermath. But the father was stopped for talking on a mobile phone while driving and drugs were discovered in the vehicle they were in.

McCarthy said he was instructed by an American consulate who called himself David Amber to wire $2,100 to another consul official named Adriana Martinez-Elizonda to bond his granddaughter out of jail.

But toward the end of his conversation with his supposed granddaughter, McCarthy said that he noticed that the cadence of her speech was tellingly off.

“That led me to believe something was wrong,” said McCarthy.

McCarthy’s instincts proved correct. He immediately called his granddaughter on her cell phone and confirmed his suspicions that it was all a ruse.

McCarthy reported the scam to sheriff’s officials, who said a woman in Sagle had fallen victim to the rip-off on Tuesday.

Last year, a variation on the so-called grandchild scam made its way through Bonner County, although it involved wiring money to Canada to bail out a grandchild who ran into trouble up there.

The scheme, also known as the emergency scam, tends to target senior citizens by playing on their emotions. The scam also tends to be underreported because people are embarrassed by being duped.

Hallmarks of the scam include victims being sworn to secrecy about what was transpiring, rushed phone calls and convincing reassurances that the matter can be resolved with a wire transfer.

•••

How to avoid being scammed

The Idaho Attorney General’s Office recommends following the three Cs if you receive a frantic call from a grandchild who claims to be in trouble:
• Calm down — Being agitated or upset clouds your judgment. Take a few deep breaths and evaluate the situation
• Contact — Call your grandchild’s home or mobile phone and the child’s parents. When caller says, “I don’t want my parents to know,” it is a scammer’s technique to keep you from discovering the truth
• Confirm — Verify your suspicions. People who don’t fall victim to this scam find out where their grandchild is.

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