Earlier this summer a Foley grandmother answered her phone and on the other end was a lawyer, or so he said he was a lawyer.
Her grandson, he said, was in jail in New York City, and needed her help. Then, her grandson came on the line.
The grandmother, who has asked that her name be withheld for safety reasons, said it sounded just like him. He begged her for help. He implored her not to tell his parents.
She believed him. She wanted to help. How could she help?
The lawyer had an answer. Wire $6,500 for fees and he could have the charges dropped and her grandson out of the slammer in a day.
But grandma is 79-years-old, and undergoing treatment for lung cancer. She didn’t have that type of cash to give. She fretted. The lawyer thought. He advised her that he would talk to the judge and call back.
And indeed he did. The judge agreed to $950, all charges dropped. But don’t send the money to the office, the lawyer advised. We wouldn’t want your grandson’s good name dragged out in the newspapers, he purred. Send it here instead.
Here turned out to be the Dominican Republic. And grandma almost did.
An employee at the local Western Union office where she stopped to wire the money told her to go home. It was a scam.
And it was.
“There are many, many types of these scams out there and unfortunately they work; therefore, they continue to pop up,” said Chief Thurston Bullock of the Foley Police Department.
The grandmother said once she looked back on the conversations, she should have easily recognized the warning signs.
“They had three different numbers all in New York. There was no secretary, this guy, this lawyer always answered the phone,” she said.
He called three times to ask if she was leaving to make the wire. He even offered to find a location for her near her house.
As for the instructions to send the money, they were unusual as well.
“He said to tell them to say you know this lady and she’s on vacation there. The lawyer said this. That’s not right. What sort of lawyer says that?” she said.
But, her judgement was clouded by fear and concern.
The scammers knew her name, her information, her grandson’s name and information. They knew he was in the military. They knew everything. Who else would know that but a legitimate lawyer in an emergency situation, she wondered.
“They had everything on me. Then had somebody representing him who sounded like him, knew his name, knew his background, that’s scary,” she said. “I should have known better but I didn’t want him to be in trouble.”
Bullock said any call or correspondence, especially those that are not from Baldwin County, in which you are asked for money should be considered carefully and is likely a scam.
If you do take the call, never offer information such as a social security number, birth date or other information. If it is a legitimate business that holds your account, they will already have your information.
Bullock suggested asking, “what do you show for me on that” rather than providing answers. Government agencies such as the IRS do not ask for money over the phone.
“It is easy to find out the names of relatives through a Google search or Facebook, so it is not uncommon for them to have a little bit of knowledge about you,” he said.
Ransom type scams that claim a loved one is in trouble or even kidnapped are also popular. Bullock said if you receive a call, hang up and call the person they claim is in trouble.
The Foley grandmother didn’t call her grandson on his phone or any other relatives for days and didn’t check on him until after she decided not to send the money. He was fine, working the night shift in Arizona.
Bullock said lottery and sweepstakes styled scams ask you to send money to receive money or ask you to purchase or send gift cards or pre-paid cards. Also, anyone asking you to cash a check for them is a scam.
“Don’t let greed cloud your judgement when they promise something in return,” Bullock said. “The old adage is true, if it is too good to be true, it probably is.”