Virginia man warns community after nearly falling for phone scam

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ALBEMARLE COUNTY, Va. (WCAV/WHSV) — An Albemarle County man is warning the community about an ever-popular phone scam that was personal for his family.

Paul Hartman was home when a phone call came in regarding his grandson, Daniel.

"We get these calls every once in a while and we hang up, but this one was very personal to start out with," Hartman said. "I received a phone call and he identified himself as Gary Scott."

The man, who said his name was Gary Scott, said he was Daniel Hartman's attorney and was representing him for his case.

'Scott' told Paul Hartman he would pass the phone to his grandson, which caused some fear for Paul.

"He told me he was in jail," Hartman said.

In order to get Daniel out of jail, 'Scott' told Paul he would need to pay $7,900.

"I was upset," Hartman said. "You know Hartmans never get into jail."

Before sending any money, Paul called one of his sons, who cleared up the story for him.

"He said, 'Dad, that was a scam,'" Hartman said.

It's known as the grandparent scam and it's one of the most frequent ways law enforcement sees strangers trying to exploit the elderly. The scam artist poses as a grandchild in a desperate situation to try and get money from their grandparents.

That trouble could be a broken-down car, a lost wallet, or in need of jail bond, but, regardless, always ends with a plea for money – usually in a very detailed way, like using gift cards which are difficult or impossible to refund.

In the version of the scam Hartman received, the "attorney," who may be an accomplice to the scam or simply the same person doing a different voice, lends the scam artist credibility.

A person in West Virginia lost more than $185,000 over a month to a similar scam.

From his experience, Hartman hopes the community can be more aware of who is on the other side of the phone line.

"Be careful. Make them identify themselves. Get a phone number," Hartman said. "Ask them if you can call them back and tell them you're not going to give them cash to begin with."

Hartman reported the incident to the Albemarle County Sheriff's Office for further investigation.

Scammers rely on the good-will of grandparents to shield grandchildren from potential punishment. This may result in those receiving such calls deciding not to check with the child’s parents.

You can follow these tips to avoid becoming a victim:
• Stay calm and don’t react out of immediacy.
• Get a call-back number.
• Call the grandchild’s known number or other family members to see if there really is an emergency.
• Ask the caller questions that only the grandchild would know.
• Never send cash through the mail.
• Never give bank routing numbers or credit card numbers to anyone via phone.
• Be skeptical of any request for a wire transfer or to use a pre-paid debit card, regardless of who the requestor says they are.
• Do not wire money until a third party verifies the alleged child really is in trouble. Check local jails and/or hospitals.

If you did fall victim to such a scam, you can call your state's attorney general's office to report it.

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