When Richard Linder received a call a few months ago about his grandson being in a car accident, his mind reeled to March 17, 1978.
That day, he learned from a phone call that his 17-year-old daughter had been in a wreck. She did not survive.
But this call was different.
The con artist on the other end of the line was working the 84-year-old Sun City Hilton Head resident for money, using an increasingly common phone scam that targets the elderly. Callers pretend to be grandchildren charged with a DUI in another state or country, or pose as their attorneys seeking bail and legal fees, according to Beaufort County Sheriff's Office reports.
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The callers sometimes pose as lawyers, saying that a passenger in the grandchild's car was killed in the accident and the lawyer can get the charges against the grandchild dropped for anywhere from $1,300 to $3,800.
The scam surfaced locally in 2008, but it has recently become one of the most prevalent in the county, Lt. Mike Riley said. The Sheriff's Office does not track reports on the scam, so it's unclear how many people have fallen for it.
However, dozens of Beaufort County residents have received calls, and the Lowcountry Churches Coalition on Aging has planned an informational session on scams against seniors for 2 p.m. June 26 at Lowcountry Presbyterian Church, 10 Simmonsville Road, in Bluffton.
"It's a crummy way to make money," Linder's wife, Arlene, said. "It frightens you when you get a call like that."
The couple's scammer sounded authentic, Arlene Linder, 76, said. A young-sounding male came on the line posing as their teenage grandson and used the right nickname for her husband, "Papa."
Richard Linder wasn't fooled for long. A retired attorney, he began asking the caller questions about the accident, the charges and, finally, where the courthouse was.
"As soon as I said that, he hung up," Richard Linder said.
While the couple didn't follow the scammer's directions -- to send about $1,900 to a "Bilal Hamze" in Lebanon via Western Union -- some seniors have lost thousands of dollars to similar calls.
"To my knowledge, once that money is wired, it's gone," Riley said.
While the callers often try to pressure their victims into acting quickly, Riley said, seniors should take time to verify all the facts they are being given.
"It's all part of the scam," Riley said. "It would be just like if someone was in our jail and they were trying to make a phone call to someone to post bond. There's no urgency there."
Val Weinberger of Island West in Bluffton said she and her husband knew right away they were talking to a con artist but decided to see how far the caller would go. She said they led him on by supplying the fake name "Lloyd," for their grandson and discussing at length how to wire $1,900 to a man in the Dominican Republic.
"The lawyer sounded authentic," Weinberger, 71, said. "They try really, really hard to get you in there, and it's hard to keep from laughing, but they're pretty brutal."
After a while, Weinberger was satisfied that she understood their process.
"I said, 'Lloyd just came home from lunch,' and he hung up the phone."
Follow reporter Rebecca Lurye at twitter.com/IPBG_Rebecca.