NORTH ADAMS — Joyce Wrend is well aware that there are telephone scammers out there who prey on the elderly. She just never expected to fall victim to one.
But when the 82-year-old North Adams woman received a call last month, saying that her grandson was in legal trouble, she reacted how most grandparents would, and was quick to do whatever she could to help him.
Wrend sent three envelopes of cash, totaling more than $23,000, to two addresses in Florida, in Hialeah and Coral Gables.
"Two hours later, I was at UPS," Wrend said Wednesday about receiving the first call. "I thought I was somewhat sophisticated, and they were able to drag me into this."
The incident has prompted the District Attorney's Office to send out a statement alerting people to the scam, which has duped several people in the county.
Wrend said she is embarrassed by the ordeal, which left her feeling suspicious and emotional, but wants to do whatever she can to warn others of the threat.
The first call came at 8:30 a.m. Sept. 25.
When Wrend answered the phone, a man identified himself as her grandson.
"I said, `Benjamin?' " Wrend said, identifying her 32-year-old grandson by name to the caller. "Smart, right?"
The man on the line told Wrend that he was involved in a car accident with a pregnant woman and had been arrested for driving drunk. Then he handed off the phone to another man, who said he was a bail bondsman, seeking $8,000 for her grandson's bail.
She went to her bank and withdrew cash, abided by the caller's warning not to tell anyone, and sent it to Florida.
She received two more scam calls in the next two days, one requesting $8,000 and the other for $7,500. Wrend again agreed, withdrawing money from MountainOne Bank and Greylock Federal Credit Union, where she had accounts.
In retrospect, there were warning signs, but the caller played on the emotions of a woman worried about a family member, a common tactic of telephone scammers.
Wrend said she will advise others that if they get a call from someone seeking money who urges them not to discuss the transaction with anyone, don't do it.
"I was upset about my grandson being in jail," she said.
It wasn't until four days later, when Wrend was supposed to receive documentation with details about the three transactions, that it hit her.
"Belatedly, I knew I had been had," she said.
Wrend then called her daughter in Danvers about the situation.
"I started to cry," she said. "I said, `Marcy, I did something very foolish.' I was crying so hard I couldn't talk."
The family held a conference call with the real Benjamin, who assured his grandmother that he was OK. The whole family assured her that they understood that it was her love for her grandson that made her vulnerable to the scam.
Triggering an emotional response
Elliott Greenblott, the AARP Fraud Watch Coordinator in Vermont, said it's familial love that seniors like Wrend have that makes "grandparent scams" the No. 1 fraudulent money raiser.
"The reason why is, the call triggers an emotional response, and seniors tend to respond to emotional pleas more than Gen Xers or millennials," he said.
Wrend has reported the incident to representatives at both banks, local and state police, and the North Adams mayor. She also has plans to call the Attorney General's Office.
As for the money, she has little hope she'll see it again.
"I sent cash, I'll never get it back. They insisted it had to be cash," she said. "They are professional liars. They know what buttons to push."
Greenblott said there is little that authorities can do to rectify these kinds of scams, which, by the end of 2019, are expected to make up more than 50 percent of all cellphone calls.
The calls often come from numbers that are "spoofed" or untrackable.
"For the most part, these are not organized crime rings. This is different than the IRS scam," Greenblott said. "In this case, it's often a few people working together or a small group of individuals making the calls. Most of these calls originate from North America."
Telephone fraud from individuals pretending to be IRS representatives are often from larger organizations, he said.
There are, of course, tips to avoid getting duped, including being aware of the familiar name that your grandchildren usually call you, or asking for details that only they would know the answer to. But in an emotional state, it's difficult to be reasonable.
"It really hinges on the state of mind of the person on the call," Greenblott said. "If they become emotional, their logic and reason disappears."
Wrend said the experience is similar to grieving.
First, she was angry at herself, then she was angry with the perpetrators. Eventually, she felt relieved that nothing happened to her grandson.
On Wednesday, Wrend was hopeful that her story will help at least one other person avoid falling victim.
"I am embarrassed, but not so embarrassed that I won't talk about it," she said.
District Attorney Paul Caccaviello is asking anyone who might have received such a call, or who might receive a call, not to comply with any requests to send money and to contact their local police department.
Haven Orecchio-Egresitz can be reached at email@example.com, @HavenEagle on Twitter and 413-770-6977.