BOUNTIFUL — Gloria Barraclough was on the way to her tap dancing class when she got a frantic telephone call from her grandson Lance.
The voice on the phone told the 88-year-old woman that he was in Idaho and had been in a crash with a family of immigrants from Ghana. The man’s voice was a little strange, but he told Barraclough he had broken his jaw and had gotten glass in his eye during the accident.
The voice then told 88-year-old Barrraclough that the immigrants were demanding immediate restitution in cash and that her grandson was out of money. He needed her to wire him $2,800 immediately. Furthermore, he was embarrassed by the incident and didn’t want anyone else in the family to know what had happened.
He called back a few times to make sure she had the correct spelling of the name of the immigrant family.
“I was so upset that morning I didn’t eat my breakfast,” the Bountiful woman said. “I was in tears. I was absolutely hysterical.”
Thinking only of her grandson’s well-being, Barraclough rushed to withdraw the cash. Before she left Deseret First Credit Union in Bountiful, however, a trio of tellers intervened.
Sarah Bakkadahl, the first teller, had seen this kind of thing before. She asked Barraclough to wait just long enough for another teller to call the grandson’s place of business. To the elderly woman’s shock, Lance was not in Idaho at all but was taking a phone call in his Murray, Utah office.
Barraclough stopped short.
The man on the telephone was a stranger trying to steal her money, she realized. As a widow of 38 years who lives on a fixed income, she would have been badly hurt by the loss, so she re-deposited the cash and went straight home.
Had it not been for Bakkadahl and her coworkers La-Rae Jensen and Trisha Gill, Barraclough could have become one of the thousands of elderly people who lose their money to telephone schemes every year.
Fraudsters who pose as grandchildren in trouble is a common scam, said Bountiful Police Chief Tom Ross.
“It can be devastating, and they think they have no choice,” he said. “I’m amazed how many people are still sending money – thousands of dollars sometimes.”
Telephone scams against the elderly are less common than they were a few years ago but are still a significant problem, Ross added. He urged seniors never to send money unless they had verification from at least one secondary source.
Bountiful saw 174 fraud cases in 2011, many of which were perpetrated against the elderly.
In all of Utah, elders lose about $1 million per day to financial abuse, according to the Utah Division of Aging and Adult Services. Some are victims of their own family members.
The problem is receiving national attention at top levels. President Barak Obama proclaimed Friday, July 6 to be World Elder Abuse Awareness Day and held a special event at the White House to raise awareness.
Bakkadahl was happy to help stop fraudsters in their tracks, but the amateur crime-fighting incident was upsetting.
“As a teller, I think it was awesome; it was amazing to be able to feel like I helped her and saved her money that would have otherwise gone to somebody who’s a scam artist,” she said. “As a person, it kind of made me frustrated and sad that that’s the world we live in today,” she said.
Elderly fraud of this type has become so common that Deseret First Credit Union has to train its employees to spot it, said the general manager of the branch, Mike Pearson. Employees have to know warning signs and sometimes have to dig a little to overcome the coaching potential victims get from the fraudsters.
Barraclough didn’t lose her money that day, but the incident upset her badly.
“They pick on older women because they think they’re so vulnerable,” she said. “I think this happens all the time. I think older women get taken.”
If this happens again, Barraclough will call her family right away. She urges others to do the same.
Law enforcers and consumer protection groups recommend that all elderly people follow that example if they receive unusual phone calls or offers that are “too good to believe.”
Learn more about how to protect yourself and your family by watching a 15-minute video at attorneygeneral.utah.gov/cmsvideo/Fraud.mov.
You can also get a free copy of the boooklet“Navigating Your Rights: The Utah Legal Guide for Those 55 and Over,” by visiting legalguide55.utah.gov.