MORGAN -- A phone call from a grandchild supposedly stuck in jail in Mexico has cost an elderly Morgan man $15,000, the Morgan County Sheriff's Office said Monday.
Detective Bill Wentland said he has little hope of ever recovering the man's money and declined to give the victim's name.
The scam, however, is a common one, and Wentland said he hopes the story of this incident will persuade other people to be more cautious.
"I had an elderly man come in this afternoon. In the late part of June, he got a call from a person claiming to be his grandson. (The caller) gave him a lot of personal information. He asked him, 'Are you my first grandson or my second grandson?' and the caller knew the answer to that."
Wentland said the caller told the Morgan man that he was in jail in Mexico. The story was that he'd gotten drunk and got in an accident and needed money to pay his bail, fix the other car in the accident and to fly home.
"It totaled almost $15,000, and they wanted it sent to a Western Union office in Mexico.
"He did it, and then he called his actual grandson several days later, because he was waiting for a call back to see if he got home OK, and his grandson said, 'I didn't call you from Mexico, Grandpa.' "
Wentland said he will send his report on the case to the Utah Attorney General's Office to see if it can pursue the matter with Mexican authorities, but held out little hope of getting the money returned or a person charged.
Jennifer Bolton, spokeswoman for the Utah Department of Consumer Protection, said this is an increasingly common scam.
She said a resident of St. George got a similar call several weeks ago, allegedly from police in Canada, also claiming the St. George man's grandson was in jail in Mexico and needed more than $5,000.
"He did what we want people to do," Bolton said. "He contacted his grandson directly and found out he wasn't in Mexico."
Wentland said he was surprised at the amount of personal information the caller had: the grandfather's name and phone number, as well as details of the grandson's age and relationship to other grandchildren.
Wentland said that, plus the urgency of the phone call, kept the victim from being skeptical.
"They put enough pressure and were convincing, he probably didn't think about it. He strikes me as just the type of guy who wants to be a good grandpa."
Bolton said personal information about grandparents and grandchildren is actually not hard to get.
"People share way too much on Facebook," an Internet social media website.
Francine Giani, director of the Utah Division of Consumer Protection, said it is critical to check before sending any money, "because once the money is wired, you've pretty much lost it."
Giani said her office gets reports of attempts at this scam once or twice a week, some successful, some not.
She said anyone who gets a phone call from a grandchild who claims to be in trouble overseas, or anywhere, should get a number to call them back.
Then hang up and call the parents of the grandchild directly or call the grandchild's home phone or other family members, to find out if the story is true.
Giani said they can also call the Utah Division of Consumer Protection at 801-530-6601, or check on the Internet at consumerprotection.utah.gov/ for more information about this and other scams to guard against or to file a report about a scam.
"What we tell people to do is certainly give us a call, because we'd be willing to help you out," she said.
"We've got investigators ready to tell you, 'Please don't send the money.' "