A Watsonville woman nearly lost thousands of dollars Wednesday by falling victim to a version of the so-called “grandparent scam.”

According to the Federal Communications Commission, scammers posing as a loved one in a crisis call a relative to ask for money, telling their targets they have gotten arrested or been in an accident. They also tell their victims not to tell anyone else.

The scam typically targets older people, but it has grown more sophisticated as thieves have gotten adept at using artificial intelligence programs to mimic voices, spoof recognized numbers and scour the internet for victim data.

The woman, who asked not to be identified, says she got a call from someone pretending to be her son—who lives in San Francisco—who told her he had been in a car crash, had injured a pregnant woman and was in jail. He told her he had broken his nose in the crash, hence his different voice.

The “son” then asked for $15,000 in bail. 

But that’s when the woman’s friend Googled the caller’s phone number, and discovered it was likely a scam.

She then called her son, who told her that he had not been in a crash.

That, she realizes now, was what she should have done in the first place. But it is that initial fear from victims that scammers count on.

“So many things come to your brain in a time like that,” she said. “That was the worst hour of my life, thinking my son was in trouble. I feel lucky my friend was with me, because I believe what they told me.”

The FCC says to be vigilant when someone calls to demand money. 

“Scammers often try to bully victims into transferring money through a mobile payment app, by wiring money, or by purchasing gift cards or money orders. Some may even request to meet to receive money in person,” the agency stated in an online post.

Anyone who receives a call like this should report it immediately to local law enforcement.

For information, see consumer guides on spoofed caller ID and illegal robocalls, with additional tips and web resources for call-blocking apps and services.

Find information about scams targeting older Americans on the Better Business Bureau website and with the AARP Fraud Watch Network Scam-Tracking Map.

The scammer’s number provided by the victim has been disconnected.

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General assignment reporter, covering nearly every beat. I specialize in feature stories, but equally skilled in hard and spot news. Pajaronian/Good Times/Press Banner reporter honored by CSBA.


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