Senior staff writer
I almost became a victim of the grandparent scam last week. Late morning Jan. 15, the phone rang in the front room while I was multi-tasking after cinnamon toast and coffee, checking for important e-mails and then being in the kitchen bagging up trash.
Also, I was to go to Greenwood United Methodist church to deliver lunches to our congregational shut-ins that my wife and volunteers were preparing. With a lot of things on my mind, I picked up the phone. And that’s when a potential grandparent scam began.
The voice on the other end said, “Do you know who this is?” “No,” I replied. “This is your oldest grandson and if you don’t recognize my voice, it’s because I have a broken nose. I need to tell you what happened but please, please don’t call my mom or let anyone know about what I’m telling you.” I replied, “Sounds like you need to call your mom.”
“No because I know what she will say and won’t want to help me.” “Okay, what happened,” I asked. Here’s the summary of what the scammer said:
“On Sunday, I flew to New York City to be at a funeral Monday for Michael, a friend, who was two years older than me and died of cancer. After the funeral, we went to a restaurant and I drank some wine.
Michael’s mother fainted and was taken to the hospital by her husband. I followed them, driving her car, to the hospital. On the way, I was in an accident. The airbag went off and that’s how my nose was broken. The police officer smelled wine on my breath and I was arrested for driving under the influence and two other charges.
I’m in jail and they have kept all my ID and cards. I need to post bail of $1,200 so I can get out and catch my flight back home tomorrow (Wednesday). You can send it to the public defender; I can give you his phone number. I really need your help.”
At that point, I said, “Look, I don’t have the money, and you really need to call your mom.” Then the caller hung up. I drove to church a little unsure that this was indeed a scam and talked to my wife. We concluded the call had all the markings of a grandparent scam. That evening we called our daughter. Her son (our oldest grandson) had been at a family dinner on Monday night.
The call I received fit the typical grandparent scam because he was posing as a relative in distress, playing on emotions with a sense of urgency, and wanting me to send money to a third party. AARP urges those receiving a potential scam call to ask the caller a question that only a family member would know: what are the names of the other grandchildren, what was the name of your first pet, or what was the first vehicle you drove?
Another way is to have a family “password” among grandparents, parents and grandchildren that can be answered correctly by family members. After the call, you can attempt to contact that family member or another one to check on their whereabouts.
In other words, trust your instincts; if a call seems suspicious it probably is. If you do become a victim, report it to your nearest police department immediately. Fortunately for our family, we can call our oldest daughter often and ask her if her son is in New York City for a good laugh.