Bobbie Jean Laird, 71, of Talent thought she was helping out a relative who was in trouble but discovered she was being scammed by a telephone call originating from Canada. - Bob Pennell

Scammed! False cry for help costs Talent woman thousands of dollars

When Bobbie Jean Laird, of Talent, heard what sounded like the voice of her 45-year-old nephew, Jesse, on the phone asking for help, she wanted to do what she could.

Unfortunately, her generous impulse made her a victim of an international scam that targeted two Talent women this week and has preyed on senior citizens around the country.

"It's not your average scam," Talent Police Chief Mike Moran said. "It has little barbs that bother me."

"They prey upon a desire for helping family."

Scammers call claiming to be relatives in need of money while traveling in Canada, adding details about car accidents after a night out, avoiding prosecution and struggling to get back to the U.S., investigators said.

"It sounded like his voice," Laird, 71, said of the call she got Wednesday. "He called me Aunt Bobbie and he claimed he was hurt. It scares you when you hear that."

While her nephew was safe at home outside Seattle, the caller claiming to be him said he had gone to a wedding in Calgary, Alberta, Canda drank a little too much and had been in a car crash. He and people in the other car involved were hurt, and he needed money to keep a driving under the influence charge off his record and to get his passport back.

Laird wired $6,800 to Calgary via Western Union at the Talent Wal-Mart Wednesday morning.

Then, Laird got another call on Thursday asking for $4,000 more. She sent that, too, even though she told the man on the phone that was more than she could afford.

The second woman was preparing to send $5,800 to the same address in Calgary Thursday when an alert clerk processing the Western Union transaction at Wal-Mart warned her that it could be a scam because another woman had just wired money to that address in a similar situation, police said. That woman canceled her transaction and called police.

Moran praised the clerk for speaking up to help.

He also warned people to take precautions about wiring money out of the country, even when they are worried about family.

"Once it leaves the country, it's very unlikely to get the money back or even identify the suspects, never mind prosecute them," he said.

He advised calling the relative's home number or another family member to confirm the situation, and taking time to consult with a trusted adviser. If the caller tells you to keep the issue a secret, that is another clue that it might be a scam.

"If it is legit, an extra hour or so won't matter," Moran said.

Laird's family was able to stop her second transaction and get her $4,000 back, but the first amount is likely gone for good. They've been in touch with the Secret Service and PhoneBusters, a Canadian agency that deals with telemarketing fraud, hoping the details they've culled from phone and Western Union records might provide a clue.

Moran said Talent police will investigate, too, looking for local connections, but he's not confident.

Reports of similar scams, dubbed the grandparents' scam, appeared in The Oregonian early this month, cataloging victims reported in California and across Oregon in Joseph, La Grande and Portland., an online clearinghouse for scams and rumors, tracks a family-impersonation scam with similar details — a Canadian car crash, injuries or possible criminal charges, passport problems and the urgent need for money wired, often through Wal-Mart Western Union or MoneyGram services — back to 2006.

Reach reporter Anita Burke at 776-4485, or e-mail

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