EXETER TWP., Pa. - It's a cruel and costly crime, and now police in Berks County are warning against the "grandparents scam."
"I feel like it invaded my privacy," said Charlene Mengel, 70, who recently fell prey to the vicious prank, in which scammers claim that a victim's grandchild is in trouble and in-need of cash.
In Mengel's case, a scammer, posing as an attorney, called her Exeter Township home number and claimed that her grandson had been in a serious car crash and needed money to clean his record.
"[The scammer] said, 'Otherwise, he's gonna be in jail for 90 days and he's gonna have a permanent record on him that'll follow him the rest of his life,'" Mengel said. "He's my grandson, he's 17 years old… you want to protect him, you know."
In a panic, Mengel drove to her bank and withdrew the requested $2,000 from her checking account. She used the cash to purchase four Moneypaks from a local drug store, and wired the money to the scammer.
"I just feel like an idiot for falling for it. Believe me, I will never do it again," Mengel said, noting that the $2,000 she sent was taken from savings she had planned to use for her property taxes.
"They got everything," she said.
According to police, the "grandparents scam" is sadly on the rise across Berks County.
Just on Thursday alone, police received seven reports of failed scam attempts.
On Monday, the scam succeeded again, this time with a grandmother in Washington Township.
"Someone was claiming that her grandson was being held in Peru on some charges… and basically, that if she sent money, they would release him and he would have no criminal record and come back to the United States," said Pennsylvania State Police Trooper Megan Richards.
According to Richards, the victim didn't determine that her grandson was in fact safe in Berks County until she wired $2,000 to her scammers. The scammers reportedly requested another $950 for "passport fees," but the transaction failed.
According to police, that scammer was calling from a Canadian phone number. In the case of Mengel, the scammers provided a non-working number with a 212-area code.
Sadly, the money successfully wired in these cases is often irretrievable, police said.
"These individuals are preying on the elderly… it happens to a lot of people and it's a growing trend," said Richards. "We're seeing a lot more of it every day."
Richards advised that victims report every incident to police.
Further, she suggested that potential victims avoid providing their personal information over the phone whenever a caller is requesting money or donations.
"If it really is for a legitimate cause, there will be no problem with you asking any individual to send something… most companies now will be more than willing to send you something in the mail, because they're aware of these types of situations," said Richards.
It's a lesson that Mengel learned the hard way. She hopes that sharing her story will prevent others from falling prey to the scam.
Allentown, PA 18102