Sanibel police are urging caution in dealing with phone solicitors purporting to be professionals, even relatives, who want money to help a family member get out of jail or medical treatment for mishaps.
A Sanibel woman Tuesday told police men claiming to be medical staff at a Miami hospital required cash payments before treating her grandson for injuries in an auto mishap. Acting on her suspicions, the woman hung up, telephoning police. But it took several minutes, even a brief talk with someone claiming to be her grandson, before the woman's suspicions took hold. Similar calls to other Sanibel homeowners were reported Tuesday.
"Throughout the nation, there are hundreds of scams" like this, Sanibel Police Chief Bill Tomlinson said. "And until an actual fraud is committed, it's not a crime necessarily. And it's impossible to track. I recommend just hanging up on them."
The call to the Sanibel woman Tuesday came in the early afternoon. The man told the woman that her grandson had been injured in a car accident, that insurance wouldn't cover treatment, that she would need to forward cashier's checks totaling $2,000 before the boy's injuries could be treated.
The caller used the grandson's name, even putting a boy on the phone when the woman asked to speak with him. But the boy, she said, used the word "grandma" in his brief conversation, when in fact he uses the word "grandmother," the woman told police. The caller even placed a treatment doctor and another man claiming to a be a hospital staffer on the phone, the woman said.
The woman told the caller she would run to the bank, but needed a couple of hours. Communication at that point ended. The Sanibel woman quickly called a family member. To her relief, the grandson, who does live in Miami, was not hurt and wasn't aware that he was targeted.
What's happening in Sanibel is going on across the nation. Con artists are scamming grandparents by posing as grandchildren in distress. In one instance, Michigan grandparents wired cash vouchers to someone they thought was their grandson after he called and claimed he was caught fishing without a license in Canada and needed to pay a fine. The scam ended up costing them $33,000. The calls are often frantic, a times with loud noises in the background to mask voices. Scammers are finding targets on the web, where information is easily obtainable, police said.
Scams are so pervasive, in fact, that Chief Tomlinson was himself solicited at home.
"Think it was a lottery," he said. "I didn't need the hundred million dollars and hung up."
Sanibel residents with concerns or questions should call police at (239) 472-3111.