Elaborate ruse leaves grandparents reeling

By Fran Gonzalez | Sep 12, 2019
Artwork by: Fran Gonzalez

Belfast — Linda Roberts said she was shocked to receive a call one Thursday afternoon and hear her grandson was in trouble.

The caller said, "Hi Gram," in a familiar way. Then, "Gram, don't you recognize me?"

With that sentence, Roberts said, she was convinced it was her grandson on the phone.

The caller went on to say he had been out drinking with friends, was involved in a car crash that broke his nose and wrist, and injured the other driver — a pregnant woman — and said he was not sure if the baby was OK.

The caller continued, saying, "I need help. Please don't hate me, don't tell Dad."

The caller gave Roberts a case number and a lawyer's information. Roberts said he was crying.

"In hindsight, I should have called my grandson right then and there," she said.

To add credence to the fake call, someone posing as a lawyer soon contacted Roberts and said he was able to get the bail down to $7,500.

Roberts said she and her husband agreed to call their son Jamie to tell him about the call received from his "son."

Jamie initially thought it odd that his son had been out drinking with friends but raised the money between himself and his parents anyway. He called the "lawyer" back and for every question he had, he said, the "lawyer" had an answer.

"The lawyer said once they received the money and Damian (the grandson) complied with seven to 10 days of community service," Roberts said, "we would receive the money back."

Jamie was on his way to Portland to send the money through UPS when he decided to call his son.

That is when he discovered it had all been a scam.

His son's wife answered the phone and confirmed Damian was right next to her, not injured or in jail.

Linda Roberts' husband Jim said the key to the whole scam was the timing to get the money.

"The call came in at around 2 p.m. giving us about two hours before the banks close to come up with the money," he said, adding it was easy to get caught up in the moment and "you just don't think."

"We would do anything for our family," he said.

The family later discovered the address where the money was to be sent was a vacant house in New Jersey.

Because his son is in the Air Force and based in Arkansas, Jamie then contacted Arkansas State Troopers, who said there has been a noticeable uptick in scammers targeting Maine residents.

Linda Roberts said she can only guess the scammer gleaned information from Facebook, even down to calling her "Gram."

The caller sounded just like her grandson, she said, and he knew what words to use.

"They were that good," Roberts said.

"People our age can become very vulnerable," her husband added. "Be very careful who you talk to on the phone and verify after they hang up. A lot of people don't get their money back."

Linda Roberts said it was a learning experience.

"(But) it was awful," she said. "Let alone my grandson was hurt, but in jail, and that he needed help.

"I'd hate for someone else to go through that (emotional pain)," she said.

Roberts said she held up well until bedtime, then cried herself to sleep.

Belfast Police warn residents not to give out personal information, such as credit card numbers, over the phone, and to contact the Maine Attorney General's office directly at 626-8800 if they suspect they've been targeted by a scam.

For more information about common scams, visit maine.gov/ag/consumer/scams.shtml.

 

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