The voice on the phone was at least eight to 10 years older than my oldest grandchild.
“Who are you and what do you want?” I replied, in a less than hospitable tone.
“Grandfather?” the voice repeated.
“I asked who are you and what do you want?” I repeated.
I have six grandchildren, none of whom address me as Grandfather.
My caller hung up.
In a career of nearly 50 years in journalism — much of it as a police reporter — you learn about, and report about, a lot of con games.
One of the most common is the “pigeon drop,” where a stranger approaches the intended victim (the pigeon) with a cock-and-bull story about having found a lot of money, and offers to split the money with the pigeon if he will put up a large sum “to show good faith.”
Okay, I am omitting some of the finer points, since I have no wish to offer a primer on con games. Trust me, there’s a reason it’s called the pigeon drop.
Most con games appeal to a degree of greed — no, let’s just call it complicity — by the victim. It’s an old concept: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
The grandparent scam is an exception. It appeals to the victim’s wish to do the right thing.
If the grandparent doesn’t recognize the con, he (or she) asks why the grandchild is calling. The caller replies that they are in a jam, typically in jail, and needs money to post bail. A lot of money. Right away. Send it in a way that is not easily traceable.
If you are a grandparent, your immediate reaction is to respond to the crisis. I understand this.
The problem is that neither the “grandchild” nor the crisis is legitimate. And the money can seldom be recovered.
A couple of weeks ago, a woman in Pinellas County got such a call.
It began with “Hey Gramma.”
Her fake grandson said he had been involved in a traffic accident, was in jail, and needed $5,800 to post bail. He didn’t want his mother to know what had happened.
A fake “public defender” who was in on the call supported his story.
More calls followed.
By the time the victim realized that she might have been scammed, she had sent $19,000 to her “grandson.”
She called her daughter and learned that her grandson was at home, working on his lessons.
Why repeat this story?
I am a grandfather, approaching the age of 80. I have the good fortune to know many of the scams going on out there. Many of us old folks don’t.
If you have an elderly parent (I reluctantly confess that my age probably qualifies me as elderly, as much as I would like to think of it as late middle age) warn them that there are a lot of scams that appeal to their wish to help out a grandchild who is in a jam.
Encourage them to call you — or a trusted friend or law enforcement agency — if they get a call that has a suspicious sound to it.
If they resent the advice, tell them that I put you up to it. It’s in my job description.
(S. L. Frisbie is retired. Has he ever been conned? Let’s say that he never got swindled for more than a few hundred bucks. And it was not a grandparent scam.)