An elderly South Surrey couple who fell victim to a “clever” fraud involving a con man who pretended to be their grandson, are warning other seniors to be on their guard.
Ocean Park residents Ester and Gordon Rice, who are in their 90s and 80s, respectively, received an unusual phone call on Jan. 11 from someone claiming to be a lawyer.
The person on the line told Gordon that his grandson was being held for bail because he was accused of causing a vehicle collision.
“They said there was a car in front of his car that was wobbling and he tried to pass it, get around it, and he managed to bang into the back end of it,” Gordon said, describing the phone call.
“He was worried because when you rear-end somebody, it’s almost always your fault. The guy that phoned me said we can determine this wasn’t the case and we’ll have to put up some bail money first.”
To seal the deal, the fraudster asked Gordon if he would like to speak to his grandson.
“And the young man who followed on the phone sounded exactly like our grandson, except that he was in a very upset and emotional mood,” Gordon said.
“It was obviously not him, I found out later. Their story was so convincing that I thought it really was an authentic situation and this was really my grandson I was talking to in a very upset kind of mode.”
Gordon and Ester agreed to pay the “bail money,” which they were told would be reimbursed three to four days later. The fraudsters also told Gordon to not tell anyone about the incident because that would cause embarrassment for his grandson.
Because of apparent COVID-19 concerns, the fraudsters asked the couple to put $8,900 in an envelope and leave it on their front porch. Soon after, a man wearing a jacket and hoodie picked up the envelope and returned to a Surrey Metro Taxi cab before departing, Gordon said.
“My grandson, who was supposed to be released later on that day, actually came in after work and he had no idea what was happening,” Gordon said. “And I realized we’d been scammed. That’s when we called the police.”
Shortly after the incident, Gordon and Ester made up a sign and posted it on their front lawn, warning neighbours of the scam.
“If there’s any way we can prevent these people from getting somebody else, it would be great,” he said.
One of their neighbours, Kim Ness, noticed the sign and contacted Peace Arch News.
Ness said it’s important to alert the community about this scam because of how manipulative it was.
Ness suggested banks also have a role to play to prevent these types of crimes. She noted that when someone tries to withdraw more than $10,000, they automatically have to fill out paperwork.
“So I think (Ester) went to the bank and took out $9,000. But that bank teller, knowing Ester for as long as they have, they probably should have asked, you know, what are you doing with this cash?” Ness said.
“That’s the other part of it that I think that’s important is the education of the banks and the community to watch for these things.”
Surrey RCMP confirmed it has received a police report and is actively investigating the incident. Police have not yet made an arrest.