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One of the ongoing concerns about “The Internet” is a loss of privacy. People routinely give out personal and private information without consideration that it might cause a problem. Facebook and the other social networking sites take this to a new level. We all understand that Facebook is immensely popular, particularly with the younger crowd. Apparently, many younger folks put a lot of information on their Facebook pages that is seemingly innocent. We must remember that crooks are always looking for any advantage they can get. Facebook is the latest tool in their toolkit.

This story is one that you could easily label as an “urban legend.” Only problem is that it is a REAL story. We know all of the people in the story. They are great folks from a great family, probably good role models for typical, average Americans. As Joe Friday would say, I have changed the names to protect the innocent. The main players are:

Ashley: Bright, personable Junior in a middle of the US College. High academic achiever, great grades, never had been in any kind of trouble anywhere, liked by all.

Lauren: Ashley’s long time friend and college roommate.

Ashley’s grandparents: Retirees, in their 70’s, living in small town USA, NO SIGN of mental decline. Not tech savvy. Not computer savvy. Love their granddaughter and would do anything to help her.

Friday November 9, 2012 (Edited for the sake of brevity.)

Grandmother receives a phone call: Hi grandmother, this is your oldest granddaughter, Ashley. I have a cold so I do not sound right. I have a problem and need your help. Lauren’s grandmother died and we drove to the funeral in Canada with two boys from school. We got pulled over by the Canadian police because a tail light was out. The police found marijuana in one of the boy’s backpacks. The police do not think I have anything to do with it, but they are going to hold me in jail until it is all straightened out. This is my only phone call, so I called you to ask for your help. Please don’t tell mom and dad, because they will kill me. Please talk to the Canadian policeman.

“Canadian Policeman” gets on the phone with grandmother. We don’t think your granddaughter had anything to do with the marijuana, but we have to hold her until a court hearing. It will be a few weeks, in December. If you want to get her out of jail sooner, you can pay $3,900 today and we will release her immediately.

Grandmother talks to grandfather and they agree to pay the money.

Grandfather gets on the phone with the Canadian policeman to work out details of the money transfer. He is told to send the money to a certain name and phone number, in Panama City, Panama via Money Gram.

Grandpa hangs up the phone and immediately calls the granddaughter’s cell. She does NOT answer because she is in class. Grandpa assumes this is because the Canadian police have her phone and it either will not work or they will not let her answer it. Grandpa locates the nearest Money Gram office, which turns out to be a Wal-Mart. He goes down and gives them $3,900 with the instructions on where to send it.

After doing this, Grandpa comes home and calls Ashley’s father. Her father says this is a scam, you got taken, I will call Ashley to verify she is OK. She eventually called back and was OK and it was a scam.

Father calls grandfather and tells him to check with Wal-Mart to see if the transfer can be cancelled. Wal-Mart said that it can be cancelled as long as the money has not been picked up on the other end. Luckily, it had not been and the grandfather was able to get his money back.

Key to the scam was that the caller knew the granddaughter’s correct name, the roommates correct name, the grandparents name and possibly address. It is not clear how the scammers got the grandparents phone number. Another key was the absence of foreign accents. If the scammers had an Ethiopian or Panamanian or some other foreign accent, it would have been a tip off. In this case, Ashley sounded like a normal US college student. The Canadian Policeman sounded like a normal English speaking Canadian, as opposed to a French speaking Canadian.

There is ZERO proof that the scammers got this information from Ashley’s Facebook page. That is the best guess from the family. Ashley said that all of the information the scammers had could have come from her page.

I had heard of cold calls where someone gets an elderly person and the phone and says something like: “Hi grandma, do you know who this is? It is your grandson. . .” The scammers do NOT know the name of the grandchild. This is the first case I have heard of with so much detailed information which was correct.

Like many things in life: “It could never happen to us” until it does. In this case, it just did. I suspect that a fairly high percentage of grandparents would do exactly the same as Ashley’s did. My guess is if the grandparents said: “We don’t have $3,900” the scammer would have lowered the number until they had a deal. Scammer would say something like: “How much can you come up with in one hour?”

The METAR side: For every cent we make on our investments, it seems there is someone out there trying to get their hands on it.

BOTTOM LINE is that you should be aware of this if you are a grandparent. If you are a child or parent with living grandparents in the family, you should go over this scenario with them and hope it sticks. I am not getting much support for Yoda’s solution, which is to shut down all social network websites, starting with Facebook.


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