Scam sweeping the nation targets good-hearted grandparents

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LEAWOOD, Kan. -- An alert bank employee helped prevent a grandmother from being duped out of $20,000.

It's the latest example of a surge in "grandparent scams" that's sweeping the nation. The con artists are even getting the attention of Congress.

The con works like this: A phone caller identifies themselves by name as the target's grandchild. They say they're in trouble and they beg for help. For a grandparent, the first instinct is to do whatever you can to prevent your family member from ending up behind bars.

This is exactly what happened to Carolyn Markey, 82, on Friday. She says the caller sounded like her 18-year-old grandson Josh. "Josh" claimed he was in Mexico and had been beaten. He was being held and faced jailtime if he couldn't come up with $20,000.

Markey says she rushed to her bank to take out a loan for Josh, but an alert bank worker recognized the age-old scam.

"The first thing I thought of is, 'I've got to get him out of there,'" Markey said. "And it kind of turned off my rational thinking."

Markey received four or five calls that day from a number that showed up as unavailable on caller ID.

She later called Josh's mother and learned that the teen wasn't in Mexico, but safe and sound here in the United States.

The Federal Trade Commission says so-called imposter scams have doubled in the last five years, costing Americans more that $73 million a year. The con artists prey on senior citizens who often have nest eggs or excellent credit to help a relative in trouble.

Markey says alarm bells should have gone off in her head when the caller insisted that the situation remain a secret and that she should not tell anyone about it. She's thankful she did not follow that advice and told her bank and filed a police report.