With the help of an alert Rite Aid employee, Charles Miller of Lodi avoided being scammed out of $5,000.
Miller was ready to wire the money to a person claiming to be his grandson, Nathan, in Greece.
But his grandson was in California, and Rite Aid worker Judy Maire refused to let Miller be ripped off.
Police say the scam usually targets seniors. They say such financial fraud has become all too common — and warn that once money is wired overseas, there is little they can do.
Miller received a call on June 27 from someone claiming to be his grandson, supposedly calling from Greece. He was in trouble, he said. He had a fender-bender and the damage to the car was going to be $5,000.
Could Grandpa send him the money? Oh, and do not tell his mother or father, Miller's grandson warned, because he knew they would be mad.
The problem was not that Miller's grandson had been in an accident, nor was it that the boy was in Greece.
Miller was being scammed.
"It really sounded just like my grandson," Miller said. "He has a distinct voice. I was concerned."
Miller headed out immediately to get his grandson the money, unbeknownst to him that he was in the middle of being cheated out of a pile of cash.
He went to Safeway to try and send the money from the Western Union inside the store. They did not open until 10 a.m. It was 8 a.m.
So Miller headed to Rite Aid on West Lodi Avenue. He rushed up to the Western Union kiosk.
Store employee Maire was there to help, but as Miller began to relay his story, she that realized something was wrong.
Red flags began to pop up as Miller told Maire his tale of trying to get the large sum of money overseas as quickly as possible.
Was Miller sure it was his grandson?
"I said to him, 'Did you ask him questions or did you just listen?'" Maire said. "It is so believable to them. They feel they are abandoning (the person who calls)."
Maire refused to let Miller send the money, realizing that Miller was probably the victim of a money scam.
She suggested that Miller call his grandson's parents to find out if he had really gone overseas, or to see if he could actually speak with his grandson.
Miller left distraught and tried twice more to send money, but "divine intervention" prevented him from acquiring the requested money, he said.
After speaking with a Lodi police officer who also believed the situation to be a scam, Miller took up Maire's advice and eventually reached his grandson by phone.
His grandson was not in Greece, and he certainly did not need $5,000.
Miller said he considered himself lucky to not have fallen victim to the scheme. While the person who initially requested the money did call back, Miller pressed him with personal questions he knew the man would not be able to answer.
The person became angry, Miller said, and eventually hung up.
"I have learned you have to cool it a bit and think," he said. "Do not trust any caller that asks for money."
While Miller was lucky to avoid the scam, others are not so fortunate.
Sgt. Doug Chinn of the Lodi Police Department said these kind of scams happen every day. Typically, people are scammed via email, though phone calls are fairly frequent.
Police reports are sent to the federal agencies monitoring these scams, but Chinn said people still fall victim to a host of schemes.
According to Maire, she encounters a scam victim roughly once a month.
Fortunately, however, employees at stores like Rite Aid are trained to try and help people avoid losing money to the sly scammers.
Large sums of cash, vague details on why money is needed, and asking not to tell mom or dad are key red flags, said Rite Aid store manager Ken Prestor.
"The (scammers) make the situation seem so desperate," Maire said. "(Victims) usually don't believe it could be fake. It is sad."
Contact Katie Nelson at email@example.com.