A few years ago, my mother-in-law phoned long distance with worry in her voice. “I hate to tell you, but your son’s in trouble.”
She went on to tell a frightening story about my son, who was away at college. He had phoned her from Canada, she said. He and a buddy had gone on a road trip to Calgary, where the friend had gotten drunk and caused a car crash. People were hurt. My son was uninjured but the other driver was in the hospital, his friend was in jail, and my son’s passport had been confiscated. They needed money.
At this point so many alarm bells were ringing in my head that I could hardly hear her. Then she said she’d wired him the cash and promised not to tell us about it. But he’d called back asking for a lot more, and…
She had been scammed.
My son was fine. He was not in Calgary. He had not taken a road trip. He had never called her. There was no accident.
My mother-in-law was mortified.
This was the con: The scammers would phone number after number. When somebody answered, they’d say, “Hi, do you know who this is?”
And sure enough, after some prodding — “Come on, Grandma!” — plenty of people would make a guess. Then the scammers had a name, and pretended to be that person, and set about telling their tale of woe and financial need. Eventually they convinced people to wire money via Western Union to a Walmart in Montreal.
Thieving, lying assholes.
Later, I learned that this is such a well-established scam that there’s a name for it: The Favorite Grandson Scam. Police departments warn about it.
Later still, I wrote a short story about the scam. (The story features revenge. I’ll let you know when it’s published.)
This morning, my phone rang. Caller ID said, BLOCKED.
I went ahead and answered. And the guy on the other end said, “Hi, do you know who this is?”
I almost hung up. Then I decided to see how this guy would set about working on me.
I said: Who’s this?
Me: I don’t know. Give me a hint.
Caller: It’s your cousin.
Me: Which one?
Caller: On your mom’s side.
Me: (after a thoughtful pause) Brad?
Caller, laughing: Yes!
I don’t have a cousin Brad.
But I asked him what was up. He said he was in deep trouble and needed me, really needed me. I asked what was wrong. He said, “What would you do for somebody who really, really needed you? Family?”
At that point I felt so greasy that I couldn’t stand it any longer. I hung up.
Because the call was blocked, I had no number I could report to the authorities. After pacing around the house muttering to myself, I took to Twitter, mostly to warn people about how this scam works. Since then I’ve heard from several other people whose relatives have been targeted. It’s infuriating. Some human beings out there simply, truly suck.
But I was buoyed by people who suggested things I could have said to the scammer. Such as:
- “Hey! I’m glad you called! I had the dream again about death. Your death.”
- “You found me? Thank you! The government’s had my phone bugged for weeks. What courage you have!”
- “It’s you? Good. Listen. I need that $2,000. The bookie’s all over me. They’ve killed the dog.”
That got me laughing, and feeling much better. Next time I get a scam phone call, I’ll use those suggestions.
But for now, I’ll tell everybody: spread the word about this scam, and beware.