A phone scam that was first reported locally in Belfast last summer was the subject of a similar complaint in Searsport this week, but this time the person who was targeted didn’t send any money, much to the apparent displeasure of the caller.

Searsport Police Chief Dick LaHaye said a woman contacted police Thursday morning, Sept. 29 and said she had just received a phone call from someone claiming they were calling from Canada on behalf of her grandson. The caller, said LaHaye, told the woman that her grandson was in Canada with one of his friends and the two had attended a funeral. The caller also stated police had arrested her grandson and his friend because his friend was found to be in possession of pills that were not prescribed to him.

LaHaye said the caller instructed the woman to wire a total of $4,850 to an account located in Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. The caller reportedly told the woman that if she sent the money as instructed, the process of dealing with her grandson’s arrest would be “expedited.”

“She was very, very close to giving out money,” said LaHaye. “… Without even thinking, she was thinking the worst.”

But as the caller continued to giver the woman instructions, LaHaye said she grew suspicious and contacted the Searsport Police Department as soon as she hung up the phone. That was at about 10:30 a.m., LaHaye said.

LaHaye told the woman that she was the target of what has been referred to as the “grandson scam,” where an unknown caller will contact a person with the intention of obtaining money from them by using a similar story about a grandchild being in legal trouble.

It was an explanation that the complainant was relieved to hear, LaHaye said.

“She was pretty confident that her grandson wasn’t involved in anything like that,” he said.

LaHaye also told the woman that if the scammer called back again, she should tell them she was not going to send any money on the advice of her attorney.

A couple of hours later, LaHaye said, the scammer called the woman again and was inquiring about the money she was to send. Following LaHaye’s advice, the woman told the caller she would not be sending any money and that she had spoken to her lawyer.

“Anyone in that position might look to have their lawyer represent their relative,” said LaHaye.

The caller, said LaHaye, responded to the woman with anger and profanity. The woman promptly hung up and called police back to report the second and final conversation.

LaHaye advised anyone who receives a similar phone call to refrain from sending money and to obtain a call-back number, either from the caller ID box or from the caller themselves. Check the area code in the portion of the telephone book that lists area codes from each state and country to learn more about where the person was calling from, LaHaye said, and give that information to police.

Some telephone scammers, for example, have been known to call from numbers that begin with an “876” area code, which LaHaye said indicates the call is coming from Jamaica. LaHaye said the caller in this instance did not appear to be calling  from an “876” number, but stressed that it is a common indicator of a general telephone scam.

Should anyone have a question about a phone call they believe is suspicious in nature, LaHaye said they can always contact police.

Those who have been unfortunate enough to fall for similar scams, said LaHaye, have had little recourse as far as recovering any money they may have lost in the process.

That’s because the person whose name is on the checking account was the same person who withdrew the funds from the bank, and even if the money went to a cause that was later determined to be fraudulent, there is little the banks or police can do about it.

That situation differs from the case of a stolen debit card that is used by an unauthorized person, LaHaye said. In that scenario, police could work with the bank to prove that the withdrawals or expenditures were not made by the accountholder and potentially recover some, if not all, of the stolen funds.

“We’ve had a couple of things happen over the years since I’ve been here where people have just lost the money,” said LaHaye.

Last June, a Belfast woman was scammed out of $2,900 after she received a call from a young man who claimed to be her grandson. The caller stated he was in Canada and had been arrested for cocaine possession and that he needed the money for bail.

A few minutes later, the Belfast woman received a call from a man claiming to be a police officer who told the woman to wire the money to an account located in Atlanta. The woman realized that she had been scammed only after she called relatives to inform them of the incident.

At that time, Belfast Detective Sgt. Bryan Cunningham advised people who receive similar calls to take the time to contact other relatives to verify any information that the caller offers. Cunningham added that he is not familiar with how the Canadian criminal system operates, but in Maine, outgoing phone calls from jail inmates are always collect calls and are never connected unless the person who answers the call accepts the charges.

The Maine State Police have also handled similar complaints in the Midcoast area this summer — a June 11 incident that was highlighted in the website of the Augusta-based Troop D reported that a Union couple was bilked out of $5,700 when they received a phone call from a man stating their grandson needed bail money to get out of a Canadian jail.

LaHaye asked anyone who receives a suspicious phone call to contact their local police department. Searsport police can be reached at 548-2304.