, Salem, MA

January 13, 2010

Grandparents fall for bail scam

By Paul Leighton

PEABODY — Police are warning the public about a scam that has fleeced three sets of Peabody grandparents out of more than $17,000 in the last two weeks.

In three separate incidents, people posing as the victims' grandchildren talked the victims into wiring money to Canada to supposedly bail them out of jail after they were arrested for drunken driving.

In one case, the perpetrator even called back to ask for an extra $4,800 to pay for his totaled rental car.

Police Capt. Dennis Bonaiuto said the scams were successful in part because the callers knew certain information about the victims, such as the pet names their grandchildren called them.

Police suspect the personal information might have been gleaned from Facebook or other social-networking sites.

"Frankly, it's outrageous," Bonaiuto said. "You're playing on the sympathies of elderly people, especially citing a family member being in legal trouble and facing incarceration. You're stealing finances from people usually in the least likely position to part with these funds."

Bonaiuto said it's the first he's heard of this type of scam. All of the victims were over the age of 70. The first incident took place on Jan. 7, while the other two occurred on Jan. 11.

In the first case, the victims wired $5,500 for the alleged bail money, then $4,800 for the rental car. The other victims sent $3,500 and $3,400.

In all three instances, the phone call from the person posing as a grandchild was followed up with a phone call from someone pretending to be a lawyer or a court clerk. The lawyer or clerk provided information on how to send a money gram and what identification number to use.

Bonauito said police suspect the same people targeted the three Peabody families.

Bonauito said anyone who receives a phone call from someone asking for money in this type of situation should immediately contact police. He also cautioned the public about what type of information they post on social-networking sites.

"There's always somebody out there who's going to look to make a profit and victimize you with the information that's available," he said.

Peabody police officers William Swaczyk, Matt Mason and Michael Nary, as well as Detective Antoine Sims and Detective Sgt. Tom O'Keefe, are investigating the incidents. Anyone with information should call the Peabody Police Department at 978-531-1226.

Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or