Grand targets: Couple narrowly avoid scam
"People would make fun of us," Jane said. "They would say, 'Why didn't they know better?'"
John and Jane are educated people—Jane spent much of her career in banking. Still, they almost got caught in a scam.
Last week, a man claiming to be their grandson called them saying he was in Spain, had been in an accident and needed money to get home.
"I said, 'Spain!?'" Jane said.
Her "grandson" said he had accompanied a friend to attend a funeral and would only be in the country for a short time.
Unfortunately, the caller claimed a drunk driver hit his rental car, and he was now seeking help from the American Embassy.
John Doe then remarked his "grandson" "didn't sound like himself." The caller also responded that his nose was broken in the accident.
Then another man came on the phone, claiming to be George Bridges from the American Embassy. He informed John and Jane that his daughter had been in a similar scrape, and the best way to handle the problem was to send the money via Western Union.
"He told us, 'When you go to Western Union, they might be reluctant to send such a large amount of money, so you tell them that you're buying an antique, and the dealer absolutely insists on cash,'" Jane related.
The caller even told them where the Western Union office was located in Janesville.
Jane tried to contact her daughter at work but couldn't get through to her.
Fortunately, the staff at the couple's bank—Bank Mutual of Janesville—warned them immediately.
They were surprised—and embarrassed.
"I was in banking, I was trained to recognize scams," Jane said.
The couple went to the Janesville Police Department to report the issue and then went to the Western Union office to let them know, too.
"I told a nice girl named Emily about it, and she said, 'Oh no, not another one,'" Jane said. "Then she said, 'If you would have gotten as far as Spain, I wouldn't have processed it.'"
Since that time, Jane and John Doe have related their story to other people.
"They say that this happens all the time," Jane said. "They say, 'It's the same story, they hit up the grandmas and the grandpas.'"
A few days later, Jane's daughter from out of state called.
"She read me a story from the local newspaper, and the same thing happened to a lady down there," Jane said.
What's the best way to protect yourself?
"Scams like this happen all the time," said Sgt. Mark Ratzlaff of the Janesville Police Department. "It's best not to send money until you've confirmed it. They're going to pressure you to send the money right away. They're going to say something like, 'I could go to jail.'"
Get that confirmation first, and never ever give out your banking or credit card information over the phone.
"The thing with scams is that they get old," Ratzlaff said. "They're constantly evolving."
In other words, be on your guard.