Elderhood Project: Being prey to ‘grandma scam’


Elder abuse isn’t always physical — predators often target seniors by playing with their emotions.

Madeline Chan of Salt Lake knows that all too well. She became concerned when she received a call from someone who claimed to be a law enforcement officer from Panama.

“He said we have someone who needs to talk to you,” she said. “The boy or man, whoever came on, sounded like my grandson.”

The young voice sounded desperate. Chan said that he said “‘we got into an auto accident and they put me in jail and in order to get out, I need $1,200.'”

The “officer” then came back on the line and instructed her to immediately send the money through Western Union. “He said there will be a young lady who will pick it up for him.”

Chan had no idea she was a victim of a complex scheme. Scott Spallina from the Office of the Prosecuting Attorney said “it’s called the ‘grandma scam’ or the ‘distressed relative scam’ and basically what people are doing is targeting older citizens and saying that a loved one is in danger, and because of that, it raises the anxiety to where they want you to make an emotional decision based on money.”

Chan said later that night after the phone call, she called her great-grandson at home. That’s when she knew she had been deceived.

“When it’s so desperate, and you think there’s so much at stake for the child, if they said $5,000, I might have done it,” she said.

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