Roles on police shows don't help Pat Crowley avoid grandparent scam

Rolls on police shows don’t help Pat Crowley avoid grandparent scam

Pat Crowley played a journalist in the 1960s TV show "Please Don't Eat the Daisies." But that didn't prepare her for the grandparent scam. She thought she was helping a grandson in trouble. (Pat Crowley / September 1, 2014)

"Please Don't Eat the Daisies" wasn't the most important TV show from my childhood in terms of life lessons.

Those would probably be "The Brady Bunch," which taught me about the dangers of throwing a football in the backyard, and "The Partridge Family," from which I learned that musical ability isn't required to be a rock star.

But there was one episode of "Daisies" in which the journalist mom, played by Pat Crowley, got her comeuppance for trying to trick people by using a pen name. I've taken that lesson to heart.

So how could I help but step up after receiving an email from Crowley detailing her recent experience with what's known as the grandparent scam?

"Do I feel stupid? Yes," she told me. "Would I have done the same for all five of my grandchildren? Absolutely."

For the uninitiated, the grandparent scam typically involves con artists trying to trick seniors into wiring money to assist a loved one — usually a grandchild — who's gotten into trouble with the law, often in some far-flung location.

The Federal Trade Commission said it's received more than 30,000 complaints about the racket since the beginning of 2012. Victims of the scam have been duped out of about $42 million, the agency said.

In July, the Senate Special Committee on Aging held a hearing on what the committee's chairman, Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), called a "despicable" practice that "preys on a senior citizen's willingness to do anything to help a family member in trouble."

Representatives of the FTC and the FBI told the committee that they're committed to catching perpetrators of the scam. But Lois Greisman, a senior FTC official, acknowledged that because many of the scammers are based overseas, they can be difficult to track down.

The last time I wrote about the grandparent scam, I told the story of a Northridge man who was stopped by family members only moments before he was about to wire $1,200 to help a nephew he believed was languishing in a Greek jail.

What happened to Crowley shows how easy it can be for someone to fall for the deception and lose a big chunk of change — in her case, $2,000.

And she had a background in law enforcement, sort of.

"I was on both 'Police Story' and 'Police Woman,' " Crowley said. "But I guess that was a long time ago. I was completely fooled."

She said she received a call last month from what sounded like her 21-year-old grandson, Will, who lives in Santa Monica.

"Something bad has happened," the caller said.

He told Crowley that he'd been arrested with some friends and that drugs were involved. He begged her not to tell anyone. A police officer, Crowley was told, would contact her in a few minutes.

Then came a call from a woman identifying herself as "Officer Lewis." She told Crowley it would take $2,000 to bail out her grandson.

Crowley was instructed to get the money from the bank and then go to a nearby CVS store and purchase four Green Dot MoneyPak cards worth $500 each. She was to then await another call.

By this time, many people would be questioning the legitimacy of what was happening. The vow of secrecy, the multiple calls — these are hallmarks of the grandparent scam.

The use of Green Dot cards is a relatively new wrinkle. In the past, scammers would have you wire money using Western Union or a similar service. Green Dot cards are a more sophisticated and efficient way for them to steal your cash.

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