County Market employee thwarts phone scam

When an area couple was told over the phone that their grandson was injured and needed money, they rushed to help. What they didn't know was that someone had their grandson's information and was making up the whole story.

The couple was the target of a phone scam - but when they tried to wire the money earlier this week, a quick-thinking store clerk came to their rescue.

Brian Toumbs works at the County Market at 48th and Broadway in Quincy. The store is an authorized agent of Western Union. He stopped the transaction when the couple tried to send nearly $1,000 to Peru.

It was a potential scam avoided, largely because Brian and other store employees are trained to spot potential scam victims.

"We look for large amounts going overseas, the age of the customer, and if they seem like they're nervous or not," Toumbs said.

His training has become common for all employees at County Market as scams become more frequent.

Customer Service Manager Jody Gutierrez says she's seen a definite increase in people targeted by scams.

"Five years ago when I was in this position, I hardly saw it at all. But in the past year, we've seen it monthly," she said.

Gutierrez also says, from the examples she's seen, middle-aged women and the elderly are the most common targets of scams. If a potential victim insists on making the transaction even after being told it could be a scam, Gutierrez and her employees have the power to refuse the customer. From there, she'll alert other stores to be on the lookout.

"Once we've determined that it probably is fraud and we've refused the transaction, we will call our other County Market stores in the location and other locations that have Western Union as well," Gutierrez said.

The Quincy Police Department was notified of the original incident from earlier this week. KHQA spoke with one QPD detective who said that scammers are becoming more and more tech-savvy.

Also, scammers may use a technique called 'structuring'. This means the scammer will tell the victim to send a smaller amount of money on different occasions. This may help avoid suspicion from places like County Market, as store employees are required to submit a suspicious activity report to Western Union on transactions greater than $1,000.

Fortunately, the training paid off this week when Toumbs alerted the couple. But Toumbs says he was just doing his job - which is bad news for scammers and good news for your money.

"You just don't want to see them hurting or losing a thousand dollars," he said.