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An $8,000 phone call

Journal Staff

Evelyn Atkins, with her gift card receipts from Walmart and Target. Photo by Steven A. Rosenberg/Journal Staff

JUNE 29, 2017 – Evelyn Atkins has seen a lot in her 90 years. She was born in Marblehead, lived through the Depression, World War II, worked as a nurse at Beverly Hospital and also was a licensed beautician. Along the way, she married, had three children and has spent the last 55 years in her house on Point of Pines in Revere.

Atkins, who has plenty of street smarts, was caught off-guard one early morning in May when her telephone rang. When she picked up the phone she thought she heard her grandson, who was crying and said he needed $4,000 to get out of jail. “I was half-asleep and he told me he was in trouble. He said he was coming back from his best friend’s funeral with a friend, and he caught a cab which was stopped by a policeman who found drugs in the cab,” she said.

Then a man who identified himself as her grandson’s attorney got on the phone and told Atkins not to call the police. “The fake lawyer said to get a gift card at Walmart and in Target,” she said. An hour later, the men called again and told her they needed another $4,000.

At that point, she headed over to the bank with her husband, Bernie, and by the end of the day she had handed over $8,000 in cash to buy gift cards at Walmart in Lynn and Target in Salem. Meanwhile, she scratched the numbers off of the back of the cards, and read them to the men on the phone that day who told her that her grandson would be released. The fake lawyer told her he would return the bail money but when she called him repeatedly in the days following the $8,000 transaction no one picked up the line.

“It was then that I knew it was a scam,” said Atkins, who realized she had fallen victim to a scheme where criminals target seniors and tell them that their grandchildren are in trouble and need cash right away.

Financial scams cost US seniors more than $13 billion a year, according to True Link Financial, a California firm that researches elderly fraud.

While the Revere Police created a police record it is unclear if the department is still investigating the case. The Revere Police did not respond to an interview request from the Journal, and Walmart also declined to return an email query about the theft. When Atkins asked the Walmart manager about getting her money back, he shrugged and told her that there was nothing he could do about it.

Target spokeswoman Jenna Reck said the $4,000 in gift cards that Atkins had purchased at Target in Salem had been used to buy iTunes gift cards, and added that those cards were untraceable. She also said the company does not offer refunds to people who have been scammed. “That’s not something that we’re able to do,” she said.

Atkins said she is happy her grandson is safe – “he’s never been in trouble” – but warned others to be on guard. Said Atkins, “These men were so convincing. They were professional crooks and great actors. We all hope they are stopped and punished.”

“This was a good, expensive lesson in life. Never give money to anyone that asks for it. Check it all out first. We should have called our grandson first.”

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