Richmond great-grandmother speaks out after falling victim to the 'Grandchild Scam'
Gretchen Schellenberg would do anything for her 12 grandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren.
So the Richmond senior was concerned when a man phoned in early February claiming to be a police officer, saying her grandson Tyler had been in an accident, and drugs were found in the car.
She was told he’d been arrested, and would go to jail unless she came up with $18,000. The caller then passed the phone to a man Schellenberg said sounded just like Tyler.
“He says to me, 'Grandma, I love you so much.' He says, 'I don’t want to have a police record,'” said Schellenberg.
She initially withdrew $5,000, which was picked up at her home by a courier. She was told not to tell anyone what was going on, or it would hurt Tyler’s case.
“They anticipated the questions at the bank about about why are you taking out the money, and told her how to answer that,” said Schellenberg’s son Allen.
Weeks later, she had another call from a man posing as a second police officer, demanding even more money to keep her grandson out of jail. She said she could send $4,000, but the caller said that wasn’t enough. So Schellenberg offered a set of pearls her now-deceased husband had given her 50 years ago, that appraised for $1,500. The man posing as police agreed.
“We couldn’t believe someone would be so low as to take the pearls, as an icing-on-the-cake kind of thing,” said Allen.
Schellenberg packaged up the pearls and the $4,000, which she was instructed to send by courier to an address in Ontario.
The caller assured her she would get her money and jewelry back after Tyler’s trial. But days after that was supposed to have taken place, Schellenberg saw an article in her local paper about the Grandchild Scam. It explained how the con worked, with a person posing as a relative in trouble and others posing as police to bilk money out of unsuspecting seniors.
“I looked at the story and I couldn’t believe it,” Schellenberg said, sobbing.
“I quickly got on the phone and I phoned Tyler and I said, 'Tyler, were you in a car accident?' He says, 'No, what are you talking about? I don’t know anything about that.' And I said, 'Tyler, I’ve been scammed.'”
Schellenberg’s family was outraged the 88-year-old widow, who lives alone, had been targeted by heartless scammers.
“The amount of preparation they went through — they actually knew the grandson’s name, first and last name, a little bit about him,” said Allen.
“I think they played on her emotions to a large extent, and they know all of the things that would happen and things she would be thinking, and so they took steps to counter her natural instinct to talk to someone,” he added.
He said the biggest reason scammers get away with the con is they successfully convince the senior not to tell anyone.
“That’s probably the one message that has to get out to people. If you’re ever told by any phone caller not to speak to someone — that is a sure sign you need to hang up immediately or speak to someone,” said Allen.
Schellenberg filed fraud reports with RCMP and her bank, but she knows it’s unlikely she will get her money or pearls back.
“I just can’t believe it. It’s like a nightmare,” she said.
While she’s embarrassed she fell for the scam, the great-grandmother thought it was important to tell her story to keep other seniors from falling victim.
“I want everyone to know so it doesn’t happen to them,” Schellenberg said. “I don’t want anyone to go through what I went through. It’s awful