We may be having a phone-scammer epidemic. Last week, a con man phoned me and pretended to be my grandson. Then Wednesday, I read a letter to the editor in The Tribune from James Ellman of Cambria. He’d been called by a con woman impersonating his granddaughter.
She said she was in a Mexican jail. She asked him to wire $2,225 to a lawyer in Spain to get her out.
The con man impersonating my grandson said he was in jail in Niagara Falls, Canada, but when I asked questions, he ended the call without requesting anything.
His voice was raspy and hoarse. I asked, “Is that you Ivan?” He said he’d caught a severe cold from the man sitting next to him on the train to Niagara Falls, where he was to attend a friend’s wedding.
He wheezed and snorted as he told me his cold got worse the night before the wedding. He went to a nearby store seeking relief. All they had was NyQuil. He drank the whole bottle before the night was over.
He said he could barely attend the wedding the next day. At the reception he just sat with his head on the table. Afterward friends asked him to be their designated driver since he hadn’t been drinking.
He said a car ran into them in an intersection. When the police heard they’d come from a wedding reception, the officers suspected he was drunk. He was arrested and was still in jail.
He said, “I’m so embarrassed. Please don’t tell anyone.”
I was suspicious. I asked him his last name. He paused, then wheezed something unintelligible.
He asked for permission to have his lawyer contact me.
“Fine,” I said. “What’s his name? Where is he?”
“Oh oh!” he said, “They’re moving me. I’ve got to go; goodbye.”
I immediately called my grandson. His cellphone was busy. I called his mother. She said he went to work that morning in New York City.
I called the phone company. They wouldn’t identify the phone that called me. They would only tell the authorities. I called the police. The dispatcher said it was certainly a scam, and I was wise not to reveal personal information.
The Federal Trade Commission’s website (ftc.gov) calls these scams Family Emergency or Friend-in-Need Scams.
If someone calls you and asks you to wire money, the FTC recommends two precautions. Ask questions that a stranger couldn’t answer, and check out the person’s story with other family members.
Reach Phil Dirkx at firstname.lastname@example.org or 238-2372.