The Plainfield family nearly lost $11,000 to thieves using the ‘grandchild scam’

PLAINFIELD, Illinois. (WLS) — A sophisticated ploy known as “grandchild scam” is used to trick grandparents and other loved ones into sending thousands of dollars to criminals.

The victim count is on the rise, and now the attackers have a new, easier way to facilitate their scam with some AM.

Stephen Kocher’s mother sent $11,000 to the scammer because she thought her grandson had been badly injured in a car accident and thrown into prison. But it was all a lie.

“It was absolutely emotionally draining when we thought that our nephew, our grandson, was hurt very badly and that he was put in jail,” Kocher said.

The scammer called Kocher’s mother, posing as a teenager; the family said the thief could have learned that the boy’s parents were out of town from a social media post, which made the story more believable. Kocher considered this story plausible.

“His parents were on vacation. They said he had an accident and hit a woman eight months pregnant. Due to injuries, she had to be put in a coma, ”said Kocher.

MORE INFO: Scammers Use Fake Emergencies to Steal Your Money

The fraudster explained the difference in voice by saying that his nose was broken in an accident. He also claimed that he was in a juvenile prison and needed to cover bail, court costs and attorney’s fees.

The phone rang again, another lie.

“The juvenile lawyer stated that due to COVID they were not accepting deposits at the Will County Courthouse,” Kocher said, the scammer told his mother. “So we had to go to PNC Bank and deposit this money using a pin code that the juvenile lawyer had to write, show and give to my brother to deposit at the bank. It sounded legal due to COVID. We thought it made sense. “

The PNC ATM system allows you to withdraw and deposit money without a physical bank card. So the family went to a PNC ATM and deposited $11,000 incrementally using only a PIN without a card or any form of identification.

“It allowed the scam to take place. In my own bank, which I serve, I need a bank card or my smartphone in the terminal. I have to show this terminal some kind of ID to the client,” Kocher explained.

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When the family couldn’t find their loved one in prison, they realized they had been duped. They said they contacted PNC Bank immediately, who said they were investigating the deposit.

PNC kept the money but did not return it to the Kocher family because, according to Kocher, PNC told them they were not PNC clients.

Unlike most of the victims of this scam, the Kocher family ended up getting their money back 12 months after they said they told PNC they were working with the I-Team.

“The scammer could not get this money. The problem is that we also couldn’t get the money for almost a year because PNC refused to return it,” Kocher said.

The PNC told the I-Team that it “does not comment on customer questions” but “generally speaking…the length of the investigation depends on the complexity of the situation.”

For transactions that do not require a bank card, PNC said their mobile app generates a one-time code when a PNC customer enters their unique username and password. The Bank recommends that any unexpected requests for money or personal information be verified with a trusted source first.

“We know how lucky we are to have our money back,” Kocher said.

The family also reported the incident to Plainfield police, who were able to track down the suspect using PNC’s bank deposit number.

Alleged fraudster Jose Vargas of Pennsylvania has pleaded not guilty to three felony charges and will stand trial this fall.

“The complaints we’ve been receiving over the past few years have been steadily rising,” said Todd Kossow of the Federal Trade Commission.

Kossow said they had over 20,000 complaints in 2020 of “imposter scams with family and friends.” In 2021, that number has risen to nearly 36,000.

“There is tremendous pressure that the perpetrator puts on the grandparents to act quickly. You know, they think that their grandson is in trouble and that they urgently need help, and they often tell them that you know, don’t talk to any of the other family members, resist. this is a call to act quickly and check the story instead,” Kossov said.

The Kocher family said that despite the emotional roller coaster and initial deception, they are lucky they got the decision and want their story to be a warning to others.

“Just the absolute fear and horror that something would happen to a family member of a young family member. And then only the anger and frustration of realizing that you were scammed, that you were taken advantage of, and then a whole year of fighting to get the bank to do the right thing with you, ”said Kocher.

Although this scam has been around for at least 15 years, the FTC has said it is successful because it plays on people’s emotions and can take many forms, except for grandchildren’s problems.

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