Post Your Problems/Lawrence Walsh: Don't fall for grandparent scam

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National Grandparents Day was celebrated on Sept. 9.

Never heard of it?

It's a day set aside "to honor grandparents, to give grandparents an opportunity to show love for their children's children and to help [the grandchildren] become aware of the strength, information and guidance older people can offer."

Some grandparents received calls from their children and grandchildren.

Others received "distress" calls from crooks posing as their grandchildren who pleaded for help because they were "injured," "arrested," "stranded" and needed money immediately.

Although the grandparent scam has been around since 2008, the FBI reports that it has surfaced once again. Crooks, posing as grandchildren in trouble, claim to have been in -- or caused -- an accident, have been robbed or arrested for drunk driving or drug possession.

The phony grandchild, alternating between frantic and tearful, begs the grandparent not to tell his or her parents. The grandchild asks the grandparent to wire money, often thousands of dollars, to repair the car, get him out of jail and/or pay his legal fees.

Western Union, which trains its employees to warn customers about such schemes, said emergency scams play off of people's emotions and their strong desire to help family members in need.

And the scams work -- to the tune of millions of dollars a year. Yes, the acting skills of these phony grandchildren are that good. If the grandparent says the grandchild's voice doesn't sound the same, the crook blames it on a cold, sore throat or a bad phone connection.

If a grandparent receives a call from someone claiming to be a grandchild in trouble, the Better Business Bureau advises the grandparent not to divulge any information before confirming that it really is their grandchild.

If a caller says, "It's me, Grandma," don't respond with a name, the BBB said. "Let the caller explain who he or she is. Ask a simple question that the grandchild would know such as what school he or she [attends] or their middle name."

Don't let a crook con you.

Now, let's have a sarsaparilla toast to Marian McQuade, the West Virginia housewife who campaigned for eight years to make Grandparents Day a national holiday. President Jimmy Carter signed it into law in 1978. The day is celebrated on the first Sunday of September after Labor Day.

For more information, go to www.grandparents.com.

Contractor's time

Many consumer-contractor disputes end up on the civil side of the law -- resolved by a judge.

But if a consumer can show a contractor has a history of taking money and not completing the work or not doing it at all, a district attorney can step in and file criminal charges that carry prison time.

That's what happened last week when Somerset County Common Pleas President Judge John Cascio sentenced Jason Lee Diirner to prison after he pleaded guilty to three counts of theft by deception.

Diirner, 35, of Windber, Cambria County, was ordered to serve from 18 months to six years for accepting money for work he didn't complete or perform at all, including $56,000 from a church.

The Meyersdale Grace Brethren Church in Somerset County hired him in May 2011 to replace the roofs of its church and parsonage. The church gave him a $28,000 down payment.

When Diirner said he lost the check, it gave him another one. He cashed both. He completed the work on the parsonage but not the church.

Judge Cascio ordered him to pay restitution to the church and to its insurance carrier. The judge also ordered him to pay $14,610 in restitution for failing to replace roofs on two Somerset County houses after he was paid to do the work.

Theft by deception appears to be Diirner's way of doing business. He also was sentenced Sept. 9 in Cambria County to 18 to 36 months in prison for cheating other consumers.

Although the consumers may never receive the restitution he was ordered to pay them, they have the satisfaction of knowing Diirner won't be cheating others for awhile.

yourbiz - larrywalsh

Lawrence Walsh can be reached at pyp@post-gazette.com and 412-263-1895. Please include your day, evening and cell phone numbers. Due to volume, he cannot respond to every email and phone call.


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