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Grandparents still targets in gift card scams that are getting worse

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QUEENS — Christopher Boles will be 90 years old the day after Christmas, and he has five children and 14 grandchildren with his 85-year-old wife, Kathleen.

The Irish immigrants raised their family in Woodside, and the love they feel for their children got them into some financial trouble, when a young man called them on the phone in November 2016.

“His voice was just like Brendan’s,” Kathleen Boles said of the caller. Grandson Brendan was a college freshman at the time in upstate New York.

Unfortunately, Kathleen Boles thinks she helped the scammer along, by saying Brendan’s name.

What followed was a story that “Brendan” had been in a Texas car crash, with the vehicle driven by someone else who possessed marijuana.

“Brendan” had a broken nose and needed bail money to get out of jail.

A lawyer would be calling his grandparents to give instructions for sending the funding.

“They wanted $4,000,” Kathleen Boles explained. But the caller wanted payment though gift cards.

“He told me to go to Target,” Boles continued, “and then call me with the number.”

Kathleen Boles went to the Target on Queens Boulevard and did as she was told, using her AMEX card to buy $4,000 worth of cards. She scratched off the code number on the cards and called the man she thought was her grandson’s attorney.

Then, the calls continued.

“They start calling my husband again for more money,” Boles said. “My husband was scammed out of almost $20,000.”

Christopher Boles, who was in the hospital when we visited the family’s home, used his bank debit card to pay for the gift cards.

The former bartender and doorman lost most of his life savings, sometimes going to Target two times a day to get more cards, under instruction from the phony attorney who was using a “burner” phone.

Kathleen Boles is now paying off her American Express debt, $200 a month, and won’t be done until next September.

Boles’ adult daughter, Deirdre O’Riordan, said the couple kept buying cards until Kathleen happened to speak with Brendan’s father on the phone.

“She said something to my brother, ‘Is Brendan okay?’ O’Riordan told PIX11. “I received a text message from my brother, telling me ‘Mom and Dad got scammed.’”

The Boles children tried to get compensation for their elderly parents but learned that wouldn’t be happening.

“Target should have realized when my dad was going there, several times a day,” O’Riordan said.

We spoke to Target spokeswoman, Jenna Reck, who told PIX11 gift card scams “are a fairly common problem in the retail industry now; it’s not specific to Target.”

Reck added that Target has been training cashiers to look for warning signs of potential scams, and there’s talk of limiting the amount of cash that can be charged to gift cards in a given day.

“They plead with the elderly person not to tell the rest of the family,” said Kristin Kane, Chief of the Elder Fraud Unit in the office of Queens District Attorney, Richard Brown. “The scam artists are very good at what they do.”

Kane told PIX11 scammers also use Itunes, Walmart, and Green Dot cards as a means of defrauding the elderly. She said senior citizens are vulnerable, because they’re often home during the day to get phone calls.

“There are lists,” Kane said, “bought and sold among scammers and thieves.”

Kane said a number of retail chains are now posting “Scam Alerts” on gift card racks to warn customers about thieves on the phone, and PIX11 noticed a sign on a rack in a CVS store.

Target told us it has a Fraud Prevention page on its website and advises potential victims to simply hang up, if they receive a phone call from someone claiming to need bail money or medical aid.

PIX11 actually decided to look into the growing gift card fraud a second time, when we received an e-mail from Robert Farrish, Jr.

Farrish’s 79 year old father had received a phone call in May this year, and the voice sounded like his good friend, Sanford.

“Sanford” said he needed bail money ,after he was found riding in a car with marijuana, and a “lawyer” called back, telling Robert Farrish, Sr. to buy $4,000 worth of Target gift cards.

Farrish’s son, who works in Germany, told us by Skype his father was instructed to look up the code numbers on the cards.

“A Target employee scratched them off for him!” Farrish Jr. said.

Farrish’s father has had an especially bad year. Shortly after he was scammed, he fell at home and needed to go for several months to a skilled nursing facility.

Then, in the fall, the father’s house burned down in the Santa Rosa wildfires.

“He lost everything,” Robert Farrish Jr. said.

About the only memory that’s survived is a photo of Farrish Sr. in the U.S. Navy.

Farrish’s son said his father took part in Operation Redwing in 1956, when nuclear bombs were detonated near the Marshall Islands and Navy crews were tested with Geiger counters.

His father later spent his entire career working in the Detroit motor industry and dreamed of retiring in Santa Rosa, only to lose his home.

Farrish Jr. said he wrote two letters to American Express and told us Target only offered a $200 gift certificate, which the father refused to accept.

The scammer had been using a throwaway phone in Canada “so the likelihood of finding the person who did this is very slim,” Farrish Jr. said.

“These corporations really need to look at this differently,” the elderly man’s son insisted.