Sal Giani of Centerville got a call Tuesday morning from someone saying his grandson had been in a traffic accident involving alcohol, and added that Giani needed to wire bail money to get him out of jail.
Turns out the scam was on.
The caller said he would call back in an hour or so, after Giani sent the money. But instead of complying, Giani called his daughter, and she arrived in time to take the second call.
This time the caller said he was an attorney and that the grandson was being held in a "Salt Lake Parish" holding cell. But the money needed to be sent to an international bail bondsman in the Dominican Republic because that was the only bondsman they could find, the caller said.
After some back and forth, the daughter told the caller she was Francine Giani, who as executive director of the Utah Department of Commerce is the state's head consumer cop. The line immediately went dead.
Sam Giani, 88, was close to becoming the victim of a "grandparent scam" that targets the elderly with telephone calls from someone purporting to be associated with a grandchild in trouble with the law, often in a foreign country, said Francine Giani.
She used the attempted scam to warn Utahns that adult children need to keep in close contact with their elderly parents, whose hearing problems and occasional confusion make them vulnerable to criminals.
"The reality is a senior is going to get confused," she said.
Scammers circulate lists of past and potential victims and find out family information from Internet sources, then call pretending to be either a grandchild in trouble or someone who is coming to their aid. In the Giani's case, the number used by the scammers 438-989-1477 was Canadian.
"I got a phone call. I was in bed sleeping," Sal Giani said. "So he told me go to Walmart, go to the money place there, and he wanted $1,800 in cash."
Francine Giani said that although the number of victims of such scams is not known, they are numerous. One relative of a friend was asked to wire $125 to someone in order to collect $2.5 million in sweepstakes winnings, she said.
She said her best advice is that when potential victims get such calls, they should immediately hang up.
More information or to report a scam
O To file a consumer complaint or get direction if you think you've ben scammed, contact the Utah Division of Consumer Protection at 801-530-6601 or go to www.consumerprotection.utah.gov.