By Shereen Siewert
A Los Angeles, Cal. man is accused of swindling multiple Wausau-area victims out of tens of thousands of dollars in an alleged “grandparent scam,” while facing similar charges in two additional Wisconsin counties.
William T. Comfort, 27, is being summoned into Marathon County Circuit Court Aug. 25 to face three counts of theft by false representation between $10,000 and $100,000 as party to a crime, with increased penalties for an elderly victim. Comfort is accused of posing as an attorney and collecting money from three separate elderly people in the metro area who thought they were helping a grandchild in trouble.
The three alleged thefts happened between May 6 and May 11.
Grandparent scams and related cons are common. According to AARP, from 2015 through the first quarter of 2020, the FTC logged more than 91,000 reports of crooks posing as a relative or friend of the victim. Police say such scams can be lucrative: Eight people charged in a July 2021 federal indictment allegedly ran a nationwide scam network that used this ruse to steal some $2 million from more than 70 older Americans over an 11-month period in 2019 and 2020.
Tips and resources from AARP are below.
- The person claiming to be your grandchild asks you to send money immediately and provides details on how — for example, via gift-card, prepaid card or wiring money to a particular Western Union office.
- The call comes late at night. Scammers figure an older person may get confused more easily if they call then, the National Consumers League warns.
- Do set the privacy settings on your social media accounts so that only people you know can access your posts and photos. Scammers search Facebook, Instagram and other social networks for family information they can use to fool you.
- Do hang up immediately and call the grandchild or other family member in question, on a known number, to make sure they’re safe. With luck, they’ll answer, and you’ll know the supposed emergency call is a scam.
- Do contact other family members or friends if you have any concern that the emergency could be real. Scammers plead with you to keep the situation a secret precisely so you won’t try to confirm it.
- If you speak to someone who claims to be a police officer, do call the relevant law enforcement agency to verify the person’s identity and any information they’ve given you.
- Do trust your instincts. As the American Bar Association advises, if something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.
- Don’t drop your guard because the number on your caller ID looks familiar. Scammers can use technological tricks to make it appear that they’re calling from a trusted number, the Federal Communications Commission warns.
- Don’t volunteer information — scammers fish for facts they can use to make the impersonation believable. For example, if the caller says, “It’s me, grandpa!” don’t say your grandchild’s name. Wait for the caller say it.
- Don’t let a caller rush you into making a decision.
- Don’t send cash, wire money, or provide numbers from gift or cash-reload cards to a person claiming to be a grandchild. Scammers prefer those payment methods because they’re difficult to trace.
- Don’t panic, no matter how dire the grandchild’s predicament sounds. Scam artists want to get you upset to distract you from spotting the ruse.
- You can report any fraud targeting older people to the FTC online or at 877-382-4357. You might also want to notify your state’s attorney general and consumer protection office.
- If you sent money to a suspected scammer via Western Union, call the company’s fraud hotline (800-448-1492) as soon as possible. Ditto if you used MoneyGram (800-926-9400). If the transfer has not yet been paid, Western Union or MoneyGram may be able to stop the transaction and refund your money.