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Hometown heroes at the Pig

Posted: February 9, 2012 1:18 p.m.
Updated: February 10, 2012 5:00 a.m.

Catherine Nielander (left) and Elaine King worked together to prevent a 90-year-old Camden woman from falling victim to the “grandma scam” for a second time. Because of their efforts to contact the woman’s family, she only lost money from the first transfer. Both King and Nielander are long-time employees of the Camden Piggly Wiggly and agreed that they were “just doing their job” by preventing the second transfer.

In late January, two Piggly Wiggly employees went above and beyond to aid an elderly customer who had fallen victim to the “Grandma Scam.”

“They were just angels,” said the 90-year-old Camden women. After being a victim to the scam, she said she wished not to be named in the paper.

The “Grandma Scam” or the “Relative in Distress Scam” is when someone calls an elderly individual pretending to be a grandchild in trouble. It plays on the “good hearts and generosity” of grandparents, writes

Three weeks ago, the Camden woman received a phone call from someone pretending to be her great-grandson.

“The person knew my great-grandson’s name, where he lived. I thought it was him,” she said.

The caller said he was stuck in Lima, Peru. He had been in a car accident and needed money to pay for medical expenses before he would be released to fly home.

“He said he had been to a buddy’s wedding down there, like a destination wedding, and he needed help,” she said.

So she immediately went to the bank, withdrew $2,200 and then went to the Camden Piggly Wiggly to send the money.

“I had a bad feeling about it when she came in to make the transfer,” Catherine Nielander, Piggly Wiggly employee, said. Nielander has been with the grocery store five years, and said she sees these kinds of scams on a regular basis.

“I asked her if there was anyone she could call before sending the money, but the caller had told her he ‘didn’t want his parents involved,’” Nielander said.

“I tried to tell her I thought it may be a scam but she insisted,” Nielander said. So she wired the $2,200 to Peru for the woman.

After returning to her home, the woman received a second phone call from the same person pretending to be her great-grandson, saying he needed more money to pay for the medical bills.

“Again, I believed him and went back down to Piggly Wiggly,” the woman said.

When she arrived at the counter for the second time, both Nielander and Elaine King, a 20-year Pig employee stood their ground.

“We told her that we could not in good faith make this transaction for her,” King said. “At that point, we were certain it was a scam.”

King said she was afraid the woman would just go to another store to wire the money, so Nielander stayed at the counter asking questions while King contacted the woman’s family.

King said she also called Western Union, but the money from the first transaction had already been picked up.

 “They recognized the problem and looking back on it, I think ‘I’m so glad they stopped me!’” the woman said. “I could have lost a lot more money if it hadn’t been for them.”

The woman said that was the first and last time she would ever fall for the scam.

“Even if the person on the other end of the line says it’s an emergency, don’t be afraid to try and call other family members first to check it out,” King said.

As in the Camden woman’s case, her great-grandson had never left the country and was in good health with his family.
The woman said she hopes if anyone else in the community receives a call like she did, they will “take the time to ask questions and don’t let them rush you.”


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