St. Charles County man loses life savings to scammers, falls victim to ‘grandparents scam’

“I was so nervous. I didn’t sleep I really thought something was wrong.”
Published: Oct. 31, 2022 at 6:23 PM CDT
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ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV) -A St. Charles County man says he lost his life savings earlier this month after falling victim to a phone scam.

Roy Jentzsch, 85, said he received a call from a man he thought was a friend of his grandson.

“He has always called me grandpa, only him and my three grandchildren, so I thought it was him,” Jentzsch said.

Jentzsch said the caller told him he’d been in a car accident, failed a sobriety test and was headed to jail. He then gave Jentzsch the number for an attorney who would need to collect bail money in order to get him out of jail.

“I said, ‘can I send a check?’ He said, ‘no, it’s got to be cash. You can’t say nothing about it,’ he said. ‘If you say anything about it, you’ll lose it all,’” Jentzsch said.

Jentzsch said he asked the caller if he could come get the money from his house in rural St. Charles County because he isn’t comfortable driving into big cities. The caller refused, he said, and asked him to mail the cash overnight.

Over the course of the next several days, he mailed $68,000 to the scammers, worried his grandson’s friend was in real trouble.

“I was so nervous, I didn’t sleep I really thought something was wrong,” he said. “He kept promising me you’ll get it back, talked nice, how’s your wife, complete lies.”

Several days later, Jentzsch said he received a phone call from a different person, indicating his money would be returned to him at home, courtesy of a truck. However, the caller said to insure the transport, it would cost $10,000. Once again, Jentzsch mailed the money overnight and waited for the truck to arrive.

It never did.

“When I tried to call them back, no one answered,” he said. “They’ve taken our life savings. We thought we had enough to bury the both of us, that takes quite a bit. I don’t know now.”

In all, the scammers stole $78,000 from Jentzsch, who said he never asked his grandchildren if their friend was in trouble, based on the threats made over the phone.

“They kept promising I would get my money back if I didn’t say anything,” he said.

The Better Business Bureau said what happened to Jentzsch is most likely a form of the “grandparents scam.” Scammers pose as relatives and claim they are in difficult situations and need money immediately. Often, scammers claim they’ve been arrested or hospitalized, the BBB said.

“You want to take a step back and if they say, ‘hi grandma’ or, ‘hi grandpa,’ pause and let them tell you who they are,” said Sarah Wetzel of the St. Louis Better Business Bureau. “Don’t right away say their name, you’re giving them too much information. So ask questions but don’t reveal too much.”

Wetzel said it’s best to ask for a phone number to call the person back, before calling family members and verifying if they are in fact in need of help. However, she warns, scammers can be aggressive and persistent.

“If someone asks you for cash or a wire transfer, that’s an immediate red flag,” she said.

Most of these scammers are overseas but are able to disguise the phone number they are calling from.

“The likelihood of them being in the US or even local is very rare,” Wetzel said. “A lot of these scammers are overseas, but they have spoofing software so your caller ID, it can say anything they want it to say, it can be a local number.”

Jentzsch’s grandchildren are hosting a fundraiser on Nov. 12 at 7 p.m. at the VFW Post 2866 in St. Charles. Proceeds from music trivial will benefit Jentzsch, along with raffle baskets and a silent auction. For more information on the event, click here.

The BBB urges people not to let their guard down and to follow these tips to avoid being scammed:

  • Be aware of the red flags that typically include the caller saying they are in trouble and asking the called party not to tell their family about the call.
  • Instead of reacting emotionally, stay calm and contact other members of the family to determine if the call is legitimate.
  • Ask the caller a personal question without disclosing too much information. Families can consider creating a secret code to use during a true emergency.
  • Do not wire money if you aren’t certain of the recipient’s identity.
  • Report the scam to the BBB.