The caller wasn't his grandson but a con man who was part of a scheme that bilked him out of $25,000. Parlett was getting ready to send the scam artists an additional $46,000 until...
The Monday before Thanksgiving, 86-year-old Beresford Parlett received a distressing phone call from his grandson in Santa Fe. The 17-year-old high school student said he was behind bars after police found 9 pounds of marijuana in his friend's car.
"He was permitted a call and he'd chosen to call me rather than his mother," Parlett recalled Monday.
As Parlett would later discover, the caller wasn't his grandson but a con man who was part of a scheme that bilked him out of $25,000. Parlett was getting ready to send the scam artists an additional $46,000 until his financial advisor intervened.
"Somehow, his voice woke me up from being hypnotized for 2½ days," Parlett, a retired mathematics professor who lives in Berkeley, California, said of the warning he finally heeded after a dayslong scam. "I could see lots of warning signals from the very go, and I ignored them all."
Parlett isn't alone. Impostor schemes like the so-called grandparent scam claim thousands of victims annually, costing consumers millions of dollars -- and the number keeps growing. People over the age of 70 suffered the highest losses, according to the Federal Trade Commission.
"Impostor scams make up one of the top forms of scams that are reported to the (Federal Trade Commission) at any given time," said John Breyault, vice president of public policy telecommunications and fraud for the National Consumers League.
"These are very pernicious," he said. "They're lucrative for the scammers and so they make it a point to try to get money any way they can."
Eighty-five-year-old Anita Copeland, who lives in Santa Fe, said she fell for the scam last month when someone who also pretended to be her grandson claimed he needed to be bailed out of jail. Copeland said she wired the scammers $20,000.
"That $20,000 could have been put to so much better use," she said.
Copeland's grandson and Parlett's are longtime neighbors and childhood friends, prompting the two families to question whether the cases are related.
"I don't know if it's connected or if it's coincidence," said Santa Fe resident Isabel Parlett, whose father was scammed.
"To me, it sort of speaks to the fact that this thing is happening more often because I have a client in my business who, when I told the story about, said, 'Oh yeah, that happened to my dad, too.' It's just becoming a more and more common thing," she said.
Copeland said she's embarrassed she fell victim to the scheme but wanted to share her story, so it wouldn't happen to others.
"I thought the headline might be: 'Grandparents Beware,' " she said.
Copeland said a scam artist posing as her grandson called her Nov. 14 and said he was in jail in Florida after being involved in a hit-and-run accident. The scam artist didn't sound like her grandson but explained that he sounded different because he had injured his nose in the wreck. He asked Copeland not to alert his mother until the matter was squared away, she said.
"I couldn't call my daughter to verify that (my grandson) was out of town," she said.
Copeland said she followed the instructions of another scam artist posing as a police officer to wire $20,000 to an account in Florida.
"They said that it would be put back in my account after the hearing," she said, adding she found that she had been scammed after she talked to her daughter, who said her grandson was fine and in Santa Fe.
Parlett fell victim to a similar story.
After a slightly awkward start to their conversation, Parlett said he thought he was talking to his grandson, who claimed he was suffering from strep throat. Another scam artist posing as a cop told Parlett his grandson wouldn't have to spend the night in jail if he posted bail. He was told that a judge had imposed a gag order that required him to be secretive about the case.
"I went down and got $9,000 out of the bank," he said, adding the scam artists instructed him to insert the money in a magazine -- "which should've tipped me off" -- and send it via FedEx to an address in Florida.
The next day, he said, he got another call, this time saying a "slight accident" had prevented the delivery of the $9,000. Parlett was told his grandson would be released before Thanksgiving if he sent another $9,000 -- plus a $7,000 late fee.
"I was completely hypnotized by this 'police officer,' who was very good," he said.
The following day -- the day before Thanksgiving -- Parlett got another call. This time, the scam artist posing as a police officer said all the charges against his grandson would be dropped if he posted a $46,000 bond.
"The bond I would pay would be refunded," he recalled. "Of course I had to do it in a hurry because of the Thanksgiving holiday."
Parlett said he went to the bank to take out $46,000 from a home equity loan he had taken out two years earlier.
"For that amount of money, the bank officers, including the manager, came out," he said.
They asked why he wanted the money but he declined to tell them, saying only that it involved a legal matter. But he said he would go home and consult with his wife first and told the bank not to wire the money until they heard back from them.
Five minutes after he got home, he said he got a call from his financial advisor, who warned him of a potential scam.
"I don't think I'm a fool and I was completely hooked," he said.
Like Copeland, Parlett said he wants others, especially elderly people, to be vigilant around the clock.
"To tell people to be careful is easy, and I don't think it actually helps," he said. "You are a scamming subject all the time, and they could be coming any time."
Follow Daniel J. Chacón on Twitter @danieljchacon. This story first published in the Santa Fe New Mexican, a sibling publication of The Taos News.
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