Sunday, November 19, 2017

Tis the Season for SCAMMERS: The Grandparent Scam

Solomon's Happy Hill Farm

My 87-year-old father is now bedridden. Daddy grew up dirt poor, but in more ways than one he’ll leave this world a wealthy man. Sadly, he is no longer able to ride around the farmland he accumulated during his lifetime. His body is failing him, but mentally he’s still nobody’s fool.

Like most people in his age bracket he still has a landline telephone. Despite being on the DO NOT CALL register, he receives a call about once a week from someone, somewhere, trying to swindle him out of money.

These days the TV and these phone calls are about the only entertainment he has; he likes sparring with the scammers, and enjoys laughing into the telephone receiver before he slams it down.

I can attest that the only people losing their minds at my father's house are the people taking care of him. My father is anything but gullible, which is why I'm sharing this story.

On November 13th my parents were targeted by telephone scammers using the Grandparent Scam. If you have aging parents with grandchildren they love dearly but aren’t in contact with on a daily basis, or have always lived in another state, you need to know about this scam!

As luck would have it, I was visiting my parents at their home in Florida when it appeared my 25-year-old son Jordan phoned from North Carolina. Both my parents answered the phone. My mother answered in the family room, where I was typing an email, and my father from his bedroom.

I wondered if Jordan had forgotten I was there, as he hadn’t called on my cell, but it’s not uncommon for him to call to talk to his grandfather especially since he’s been sick. I heard my mom say, “You sound as if you have a cold, Jordan.” Then, “I’m going to hang up so you can hear Granddaddy better.”

Then she turned to me and said, “Jordan sounded like he’s sick with a cold too.” One of her other grandsons who resides nearby had been sick with a cold all week.

We were too far away to hear the words spoken by my father, but I could hear the tone of his voice. He’d been talking for a while when I thought I heard him call me, but maybe it was just mother’s instinct. I put down my laptop, went to his bedroom, and knew immediately from the expression on his face that something was wrong.

He was still on the phone, and fumbled with it before telling me to sit down. He had something to tell me, “Don’t worry, everything is going to be okay. Just sit down.” He appeared to still be on the phone with Jordan.

I was on my way to sit down but immediately stood up and told him whatever was wrong to spit it out!!

Jordan had been arrested, my father said. I was suddenly sick to my stomach. My father told me that morning Jordan woke up sick, and had asked a friend to drive him; he didn’t know if it was to work or to get something for his cold. He and his friend had been pulled over by law enforcement, the car was searched, drugs were found, and he was in jail.

He had assured my dad he was innocent. He had been appointed a female attorney who had been helpful. She was going to get him out of jail, but it was going to cost $9000.00 for bail. That’s why he was calling his granddaddy, he needed money, and he asked that he please keep it between the two of them.

The female attorney would call his granddaddy once they hung up, and give him instructions on how to send the money.

Everything about this story sounded plausible.

I took the phone from my father, sick with worry and prepared to interrogate. However, the line was dead. My father worried aloud that he’d betrayed Jordan’s trust by telling me what was going on.

My father did not want his grandson to spend a single night or day in jail. Nor did he want him to pay a bail bondsman. He views that as a scam. We waited for the attorney to call back…

When she didn’t call back pronto, my father insisted I call the county courthouse to find out where Jordan was being held, and what we needed to do to get him released.

I called every possible courthouse (4) near where my son lives and works in North Carolina. He wasn’t at any of them. The clerk at the very first courthouse I called asked me if I was sure he was in jail, as there was a scam going around where relatives were told their family members were in jail and needed money. I thought to myself, I wish, but my parents know Jordan’s voice. It’s deep and distinctive I had been sitting near my mom-and although I didn’t talk to him I thought it had sounded like him from where I was sitting.

I relayed what the clerk said to my dad, but he was sure that it was Jordan he spoke to, and both my parents had talked to Jordan. One of my dad’s caregivers was with my mom, so I didn’t want to divulge why I was questioning her, but when I asked her how he sounded, she said fine – except he had a cold.

Afterwards I would learn that my mother held the one clue that this Jordan was an imposter.

However, right then everything about Jordan being arrested sounded plausible even to me, but much less his grandparents.

A few months earlier, Jordan moved to a new residence. He had told us his former roommates were involved with drugs, and they were bringing them into the house they all rented. I had been relieved that he'd moved, but now I wondered, and worried if this had anything to do with his arrest.

Both my children are in NC, and my husband and I had just returned from visiting them. Our daughter Tabitha is a grad student at UNC, and Jordan lives and works not far from where she does. They’re very close and get together often.

Jordan works as an electrical apprentice, but he had asked his boss to cut his hours. He wanted to use his off time to study for the GRE. He likes his job, but his major is biology. At the time I was happy to hear he was considering going back to school.

Now that time off from work had me worried. Was he on his way to work or somewhere else when they got pulled over? Who’s car?  

Jordan knew how sick his granddaddy was, and there was no way he would call him for money. I would have thought his sister would have been the first person he would call, except he knows she’s broke or, God forbid, he wasn’t as innocent as he professed.

I called Tabitha. She had just seen him the night before, but she had no idea if he was working that day or not. Like me, she was familiar with the former roommate situation, and it worried her. He had been working a lot of overtime, and she wondered why he didn’t have his own money to make bail.

Then I called my husband, Randy. I made a hectic schedule of 12 hour days that much worse. My husband was dumbfounded, he thought Jordan had been in the wrong place at the wrong time. If it could happen, it would happen to Jordan. He’s that kid!

Jordan wasn’t at any of the courthouses I had phoned. So what county was he in? Could that be why he didn’t call one of us? We knew where he should be. My husband told me not to jump to conclusions or worry about it until I talked to our son.

I tried Jordan’s cell, but I didn’t expect him to answer if he was in jail. On a whim I sent a text to his phone to call me ASAP. Five minutes later my cell phone rang and it was my son.

I didn’t bother with formalities, but asked, “Where are you Jordan?” to which he replied he was at work and had been all day. I think my next question was, “Are you sure?” and then I asked, “Do you have a cold?”

The first thing I noticed was he did not. Nor did he sound at all distressed. It only took the first question for my son to know that something was wrong, but to his credit he waited before asking what was going on.

My son is a charismatic, intellectually gifted young man who loves his family, but it’s not the first time we’ve been worried sick on our end about Jordan, while he’s doing business as usual and clueless about it. My dad says Jordan could write a book. Lord knows I have a bookshelf of journals filled with his escapades.

I passed the phone to my father, who retold what the Jordan imposter had said to him. He wanted to make darn sure that Jordan was okay. My son assured my dad he was not in jail; he had been at work all day.

I told Jordan to call his sister immediately, and I would call his dad. Nothing makes you realize how little a job matters like getting a phone call that one of your children is in trouble. I enjoyed making that call!

Later Jordan called his granddaddy and I back and assured us he was indeed alright. My first thought was someone he’s acquainted with may have tried to extort money from his grandfather. However, he had already figured out it was a scam targeting older people. The information they had just took a quick google search.

Jordan assured my dad he was okay, and he was not at all upset that he had told me what was going on. There was nothing he couldn’t talk to his parents about, but if he ever did have a secret he knew who to trust with it. He was so appreciative that my dad was going to send him the money.

I apologized to Jordan that I didn’t recognize it as a con, and had doubted him even a little bit.

My son is well aware I was making plans to bail him out of jail in NC, and banish him to basement hell in TN. Yet, he told me he understood why we fell for it, and it made him and his sister feel good to know if either of them were indeed in that kind of trouble we would be there for them. A huge indication of how grown-up they are. It wasn’t that long ago they would have called me an overbearing, helicopter mother.

Neither the Jordan imposter nor his fake attorney called my dad back. I suspect when they discovered his mother was there they knew the gig was up.

My dad insisted the imposter’s voice sounded like Jordan, and so did my mom. In retrospect the only clue offered to my parents was how the imposter had addressed my mother.

When she answered he said, “How are you doing Grandma, it’s Jordan.” Her grandchildren would never call her grandma, they call her granny, but that didn’t register at the time. My dad had answered too, so she said, "I’ll hang up and let you talk to Granddaddy." So the imposter now knew exactly how to address my father.

This scam has been going on for years, but the con artists are getting more sophisticated and technology is making things like voice manipulation easier. My parents are not the only grandparents targeted by this con to say the caller sounded just like their grandchild.

The clerk at the courthouse in NC said it was doubtful that anything the scammers provided would be traceable.

The Grandparent Scam hit all the right buttons. There was no way my father was going to let Jordan spend a night in jail. He was ready to send my mother to the bank to wire him the money. I’m sure he would have told her to not to tell a soul, and she would have complied. My dad loves to talk about other people’s families, but any dirt (or jail time) within his own family he’s prepared to take to his grave. The same can be said for my mother.

Eventually the real Jordan would have phoned my dad, and my father would have figured out he had been scammed. If you know my dad, you know that would have been as bad as finding out his grandson had been arrested.

My parent's, Preston & Patricia Solomon. With their grandchildren:
Jordan, J.P., Levi, and Tabitha. Not pictured is Makenna. Photo was taken
several years ago-in Tabitha's case that's several hairstyles ago. 

My father is not a stingy man, he can be very generous to people in need or anyone he cares about. The con may have ended sooner if Fake Jordan had asked his sweet grandma for the money. Heehee.

Going forward, if any of his other grandchildren need to borrow money to make bail, they best be prepared to be interrogated, and then expect a personal visit from his banking liaison before receiving any funds.

2017 has been a long year, filled with tragedy, health issues, and worries brought on by Mother Nature. However, this experience incited us to remember we still have much to be grateful for. My father still has his money, my son’s not in jail, and once again the people at Frahm haus have been reminded that family is what matters most.

Happy Thanksgiving.