The man on the other end of the phone line sounded just like her 20-year-old grandson, and he said he was in trouble.
Calling her "Grandma" in a familiar way, the man told the 80-year-old Hampton Hall woman on Friday that he had gotten into a car accident with a diplomat in Atlanta and needed $2,900 to set things right.
"He said, 'Grandma, I need your help!'" said the woman, who requested her name not be used in this story. "He said it exactly the way my grandson calls me, and he begged me not to tell his parents."
He gave her an address in Panama City, Panama. Shortly afterward, she wired the money through Western Union.
Never miss a local story.
Suspicions mounted when the young man called her the next morning and requested more money. He even used the name of a real attorney in Atlanta, but when she called the lawyer, she found out he had never heard of her grandson.
The accident with foreign nationals, the details that flesh out the story and the request for more cash after the first check arrives: All are the signs of a type of fraud that "seems to be the new scam for the elderly," said Lt. Glenn Zanelotti of the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office.
The scammers are likely an organized group using phone lists or the Internet to find information they can use to target senior citizens, said criminal investigations branch commander Capt. Bob Bromage. The scam is difficult to track because many victims probably don't report it, but it appears sporadically with at least two reports filed in the past month, Bromage said.
Unfortunately, those making the reports usually have already sent their money out of the state or the country, he said.
According to the Federal Bureau of Investigations, elderly people with savings are attractive to con artists They are also less likely to report the crime because they may be ashamed or wonder if their family will think they can no longer handle their own financial affairs.
Zanelotti said simply checking with relatives about whether the story pans out could help, no matter how much the caller pleads against it.
"What I tell people is, if someone calls claiming to be your relative, reach out to other members of the family to find out if they're all right before sending money," he said.
The Hampton Hall woman wishes she had thought to double-check first, but she was in "such a panic" that she ignored feelings of doubt.
"I'm embarrassed and I am outraged," she said.
She has now taken the right step by reporting the fraud to the Federal Trade Commission.