LAKE CHARLES, La. – Scam artists are targeting elderly Lake Charles area residents by impersonating their grandchildren and seeking transfers of thousands of dollars.
The American Press reported that the scammers are using technology to shield their identities from would-be victims and avoid detection.
The scammers appear to be using Google Voice, an Internet based telephone service, to call potential victims in southwest Louisiana. Google Voice is available for public use and is free or, for people who make international calls, low-cost.
Carmen Million, president of the local Better Business Bureau, said that while the scam recently affecting Lake Charles is classic, the technology that permits greater anonymity is a new wrinkle.
Jay Nancarrow, a Google spokesman, said the Internet giant is mindful of fraudulent activities that can occur using its technology.
"Google does not tolerate abuse of our services. We will disable accounts for verifiable violations of our policies, including this type of voicebased scam," Nancarrow said. "We will also review law enforcement requests that we receive through valid legal process."
The BBB often sends reports of scams to the U.S. Secret Service, which investigates financial crimes. But the agency, which is more famous for its role protecting the nation's leaders, is undermanned, Million said.
"For every person they arrest, there's probably 10 more that have probably used the same scam," she said.
Million said cons seek out the elderly as victims because they are frequently at home during the day and often answer the phone.
The scams, Million said, can prove lucrative.
"The reality is that they may call 100 people, but if they scam five people, it may very well be worth it because they can get as much as $3,000 from each," she said. "They'll just rotary call until they get somebody."
Nancarrow said Google urges caution when accepting calls from Google Voice.
Million said consumers should seek to verify the circumstances of any call with other family members or should ask detailed family questions to establish the caller's identity.
"There is only one 100 percent guaranteed way to stop this: Don't get involved," Million said. "If you don't send them money, they can't exist."