Elderly sister of slain former York mayor foils scam

adys@heraldonline.comJanuary 4, 2013 

  • Spot the scam The AARP calls what almost happened to Pauline Burris the “It’s Me” Emergency Scam: • This scam, sometimes known as the “Grandparent Scam,” occurs when the perpetrator calls your phone and claims, “It’s me!” hoping you identify someone you know. • Once the caller knows the identity of your loved one, he or she will claim to be that person and ask you to send money because of an “emergency situation”. • If you receive a call like this, resist the pressure to “act now” and don’t panic. • Ask the caller personal questions that only your loved one would know the answers to. • Once you have ended the conversation, you should always call someone who can verify the whereabouts of your loved one. Source: AARP

— A would-be scam artist trying to steal a grand from an elderly York County widow Thursday purloined no money but did get an earful of invective, as the woman rebuffed the attempt and called the cops.

This was not just some lady.

Pauline Burris grew up poor in McConnells and learned the value of a dollar. She is 80 and lost her husband just a couple months ago after six decades of marriage.

She is the sister of former York Mayor Melvin Roberts, a legendary lawyer in York County for 55 years until he was strangled to death in his driveway in February 2010.

A year ago, two days before Christmas 2011, Burris had her purse stolen from a motorized shopping cart at a grocery store.

Let’s just say this would-be scam artist got more than he bargained for.

“The man claimed he was my son-in-law, called me ‘Grandma,’ and said he won a trip to Mexico and then got stopped by the police down there and couldn’t get out of jail unless I sent him a thousand dollars to pay a fine,” Burris said Thursday.

“Well, my son-in-law doesn’t call me ‘Grandma,’ and I sure don’t know anybody in Mexico who needs a thousand dollars that I don’t have anyway, so I wrote down the number and hung up. Then I called the law.”

Burris spoke to a desk officer at the York County Sheriff’s Office, who took the information and the phone number used to call Burris – a 661 area code out of California. But because tough Pauline Burris was too smart to get scammed – and was not the victim of a crime but only a potential victim – it is unlikely that the scammer will ever be caught.

Phone scams have not spiked recently, said Capt. Jerry Hoffman with the sheriff’s office, but Burris did the right thing by hanging up and calling the police.

For Burris, the past three years have been tough. First her brother was killed in 2010. Roberts’ longtime girlfriend, Julia Phillips, was charged with murder three months after the crime. The case still has not gone to trial.

Phillips, who pleaded guilty last year to stealing from Roberts and remains on house arrest, underwent a competency evaluation in November after her lawyer claimed she is mentally unable to understand the murder charge. The results are not yet completed.

Burris said her family, raised during the Great Depression, never took kindly to thieves.

When Burris, a certified nursing assistant all her life, was buying groceries in December 2011, two thieves stole her purse and later cashed her checks. The thieves were caught and prosecuted.

And now, this scam attempt.

“I just wanted to make sure no other old person gets victimized, because I know what it is like when somebody steals from you and you have these terrible crimes against your family,” Burris said. “People should know that they have to be smart.

“Somebody calls up and claims to be in jail in Mexico, and claims to be your son-in-law and need a bunch of money, they are probably a no-good thief.”

Andrew Dys 803-329-4065 adys@heraldonline.com

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