Over the Hill

When my ‘grandson’ called from a Florida jail, saying he needed $4,000

Phil Dirkx
Phil Dirkx jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

I got a call last week from a criminal. He was a swindler. He pretended to be my grandson, Ivan. He said he was in jail and needed money to get out.

He sounded something like Ivan. Actually, he sounded like anybody’s grown grandson with a jaw injury. He said he fractured something in a car crash, but it was minor. He said he needed $4,000.

He said that he and a good friend, whom I’d never heard of, went to a wedding in Florida. This “Ivan” said he had only “a couple of glasses of champagne,” but his friend drank way too much, so, after the wedding “Ivan” drove the friend’s car.

Somehow there was a collision with another car. “Ivan” said he was arrested on suspicion of drunken driving. “I’m so ashamed. Please don’t tell Mother or anybody,” said this voice on the phone.

If you are a grandparent of a young person and have ever received a call like that, you know you feel a flood of worry and fear. It can overwhelm your skepticism and good judgment.

The funny thing is I had received a similar, bogus emergency call back in 2011. That “Ivan” was supposedly jailed in Canada. I wrote a column about it. But last week’s call, and my resulting hemorrhage of grandfatherly anxiety, completely short-circuited my memory. I forgot that 2011 call until Ivan’s mother jogged my memory.

So being in shock last week, I agreed to wire $4,000 to “Ivan” or to his lawyer. By then another man had come on the line saying he was “Ivan’s” lawyer. The “lawyer,” however, told me to go to a department store in Paso Robles and get two $2,000 gift certificates and then call him at a number that he gave me.

He said that with the code numbers on the gift certificates he could get the cash and free “Ivan.” By then I was calming down and getting skeptical, but I agreed. I then called my daughter. She assured me her son was not in Florida, but was at work. Next I called the Police Department and was told this is a common swindle and there’s no way to trace the people who cash gift certificates.

An hour later the “lawyer” called again and assured me that my grandson was OK. I said, “Yes, I know he’s OK. He’s at work right now.” The phone line went dead.

The Federal Trade Commission calls this the “Family Emergency Scam.” If you get a call like this, try to be calmer than I was. Ask questions that only a family member can answer. And never send money without discussing it with family members.

I wonder why the scammers called me at this particular time. Was it because my wife, Mamie, died last month and her obituary mentioned our grandchildren? Who knows? Swindlers are always trolling for victims. Please, be calm, cautious and alert.

Phil Dirkx’s column is special to The Tribune. He has lived in Paso Robles for more than five decades, and his column appears here every other week. Reach Dirkx at 238-2372 or phild2008@sbcglobal.net.