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Scammers pose as grandchildren to swindle the elderly

Sheriff’s office continues to get reports
By: Amber Marra, Journal Staff Writer
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An Auburn man has been scammed out of $2,000 after an unknown caller falsely told him his grandson was trapped in Spain.

Wayne Small, 68, of Auburn, recently picked up the phone to hear a similar voice greet him with "hi, grandpa." After that, an elaborate yarn was spun to Small, ending with him sending money overseas via Western Union.

"I love my grandsons very much and I had the money available and I wasn't willing to take a chance. I didn't want him to be stuck in another country; he's only 18 years old," Small said.

The caller told Small that he had recently traveled to Spain to attend his friend's sister's wedding. While in Spain, the caller said he had rented a car and crashed it into a light pole.

The person posing as Small's grandson then said he would be unable to leave the country to go home until he paid for the damage to the car and the injuries to the people riding with him.

That's when the lawyer and an "embassy official" got involved.

"It was a bad experience, a mistake. I was willing to advance the money and I'll tell you though, these people are quite good at what they do," Small said.

The "embassy official" explained to Small that he would not see his grandson again if he did not help pay for the damages. Small's supposed grandson then begged him not to tell any other family members about the money and that Small would eventually get his money back.

"He turned me over to someone who represented themselves as a lawyer who worked for the embassy who explained all the legal ramifications and asked if I could help," Small said.

Thinking his grandson was in serious trouble, Small agreed to send $2,000 via Western Union to Spain where his supposed grandson would pick it up.

After he sent the money, Small and his wife talked it over and came to the conclusion that they had been scammed. The next day, Small got another call from the person posing as his grandson, this time asking for more money to pay for the light pole.

Small told the scammer that he needed some time to accumulate the money and to call him back. When the scammer did call back, Small had a Placer County Sheriff's deputy with him.

Small eventually put the deputy on the phone to speak with the scammer, who eventually hung up the phone and didn't call back after figuring out they were on the line with law enforcement.

Through the deputy, Small figured out that the "embassy official" he had been speaking with called via a Stockton phone number. He later spoke to his daughter, who said the grandson the scammer was impersonating had been in Dallas, Texas the entire time.

"My daughter said ‘Even though you got scammed I want to thank you for being willing to help my son with no questions asked,'" Small said. "Hopefully, if I had the means, I would always be available to help my grandchildren."

Dena Erwin, spokesperson with the Placer County Sheriff's Office, said calls come in about scammers targeting the elderly regularly.

Afterward, Small relayed the story of the scammer posing as his grandson to his fellow Sunday School class members at Auburn Grace Community Church to make sure no one else falls into the same trap.

"It's embarrassing, but I think people keeping it to themselves is what allows these people to continue to do these things," Small said. "Sometimes your emotions get in the way of your good sense."

Small's dilemma has not gone without some benefit. Around 9:15 Tuesday morning, Armida Martinez, 83, of Auburn, got a phone call that started with "hi, grandma."

It was someone saying they were her oldest grandson calling from a number her caller ID said was from Montreal, which was a red flag to Martinez. Her oldest grandson goes to Sierra College as a fulltime student.

Martinez is also in Small's Sunday School class and remembered his plight. After several minutes of refusing to engage with the caller or give any details about her grandson, the person hung up on her.

"It's obviously a scammer who thought ‘this old lady is too sharp for me,'" Martinez said.

Contact Amber Marra at amberm@goldcountrymedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @Amber_AJNews.