Walmart clerk saves woman in her 70s from costly scam

Published: Friday, April 1, 2011 at 3:42 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, April 1, 2011 at 10:37 p.m.

A grandmother in her 70s is now a fan of one particular Walmart employee. She is crediting the hourly worker with saving her from becoming a victim of a $4,200 scam on Thursday.

The scam attempt began when Anna Lake received a phone call Thursday morning and the male voice at the other end began with one word after Lake said hello.

“Grandma?” the caller asked.

Lake said she did not quite recognize the voice.

“So I asked him, ‘Do you have the right number?' ” Lake told The Sun. “He said, ‘I am the only grandson you have,' ” and then provided the entire name of Lake's only grandson.

The caller went on to explain that he was in a foreign country, had been involved in a car accident with a rental car and needed $4,200 wired to him immediately.

Lake went to her bank, got the money and then went to the Walmart Supercenter to send it via Western Union.

But Lake said the Walmart employee working at the service desk shortly after lunch Thursday refused to wire the money, something that initially took her aback.

“Then he told me there were a lot of this type of hoaxes, and I should check this out more,” Lake said.

Lake and one of her close friends began investigating the situation by talking to the Gainesville Police Department, calling the U.S. Embassy in the country where the caller said he was and then looking at the caller ID on her phone. The phone call came from a number in Montreal, and a worker at the embassy asked her if she knew for certain her grandson was abroad.

Lake said she called her grandson and discovered he had just finished another day of high school in California.

“The whole thing began to really come together for me,” Lake said. She said she was not sure how the caller was able to put together her connection to her grandson, because her grandson doesn't have the same last name.

“So I asked my grandson if he goes on Facebook. But he said he does not put any personal information there, so I am not sure how someone connected us, but it was nearly a very expensive scam,” Lake said. “I really appreciate what the man at Walmart did for me by not letting me wire the money.”

Walmart officials referred calls about the matter to their public relations department. A spokeswoman for the retailer said she would not provide information about the employee.

However, she noted that Walmart educates its employees to identify financial scams that may be perpetrated through its stores and services.

The hoax that nearly snared Lake is one that has begun reappearing in Alachua County recently.

According to the Alachua County Sheriff's Office, another elderly woman recently received a similar call with a similar plea for money to be sent out of the country.

Sheriff's spokesman Art Forgey said anyone who gets a call asking for cash in circumstances that don't seem right should call their local law enforcement agency for help.

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