LIVE OAK — Barbara Davis thought she was well aware of scams that try to swindle people out of their money.
But the 85-year-old Live Oak resident still almost fell for one of those scams just last week.
“They knew exactly, exactly every word to say,” Davis said of the phone call that nearly led to her losing her life savings, all in an attempt she thought to bail her grandson out of jail.
“They imitated my grandson’s voice to a T. I could not believe it was not my grandson. You would have had to heard to believe it. They are slick. They know what they are doing.” Suwannee County Sheriff Sam St. John agrees that the scam artists are good at the bad things they do.
The scam that nearly captured Davis is one of five familiar scams that St. John said have all been tried here locally as well as elsewhere. It is called the grandkid scam in which a grandparents receives a call seemingly from their grandchild who is in trouble and needs bail money or payment for a medical bill or some other emergency.
St. John said the need is always urgent and the caller asks the person keep it a secret.
“A lot of times it’s, ‘I’ve been arrested and I need bail money,’” he said, adding the elderly seem to be a favorite target of scammers, in part due to usually not being tech savvy and also possibly sitting on a retirement nest egg.
“They target the elderly. There’s several reasons why but they seem to target the elderly more than someone younger.”
That is the exact scenario Davis described.
“They knew exactly how much money I had,” she said. “It would have stuck with me till the day I died. I’m 85 years old. It would have ruined my life.”
It didn’t only because Davis said she didn’t have time to get to her bank in Gainesville and then to Georgia in order to make the payment that was requested. She said the supposed public defender on the call with her supposed grandson even offered to meet her at her house to help her reach the bank in time.
Davis said when she realized she couldn’t meet their demands, another grandson started making phone calls including to the public defender that had called.
“They hung up on him,” she said. “So we knew it was a scam.”
According to St. John, other routine scams include a charity fraud that asks for donations to help following a natural disaster or other tragedy, tech support scams in which a pop-up message says a person’s computer is infected and asks for payment for a virus protector, online dating scams in which after meeting on a dating website, the person will ask to talk through email or via the phone and then asks for money in order to get a plane ticket to meet; and the most common is an IRS imposter scam in which the caller claims to be from the IRS and a payment is needed immediately for back taxes in order to keep the person from being jailed.
“The IRS is not going to call you, they’ll send you letters but they’re not going to call you on the phone,” St. John said, adding the sheriff’s office has informational brochures on those scams to help inform the public and can be obtained either by calling and requesting them or stopping by the Sheriff’s Office Criminal Division at 1902 NE Duval Street in Live Oak. He said people should report scams to the Federal Trade Commission by calling 1-877-FTC-HELP or online at ftc.gov/complaint.
Davis said she is done answering the phone unless it’s a friend’s number she recognizes. She is determined to not have a scare like that again.
“I was shaking,” she said, adding she wouldn’t be surprised if someone in a similar situation ended up having a hear attack. “I couldn’t believe I fell for it. It was a close one.
“It would have ruined my life.”