Fraudulent Phone Calls

By Lane Sherman, Contributing Columnist

Last week I received a phone call that shook me up and still is disquieting. It all happened like this:
Ring-Ring Me: “Good afternoon.”
Caller: “Hi. This is your grandson.”
Me: “Which one?”
Caller: “Guess.” (The caller sounded very much like my younger grandson, but not exactly. He is in his late 20s.)
Me: “Pani?” (his current nickname).

Fraudulent Phone Calls
Fraudulent Phone Calls

Caller: “That’s right! You’ll never guess where I am.”
Me: “You’re not in California?”
Caller: “No, I’m in Italy.” (The call was so clear I began to wonder… but communications are outstanding these days.)
Me: “What are you doing there?”
Caller: “My friend, Steven, won a trip for two — airfare and class A hotel, so he asked me to join him.” (Steven was a name I had never heard my grandson mention; in addition, most of his friends have unusual nicknames.)
Me: “That’s great. What are you going to visit?”
Caller: “All around. We met a couple of fellows here who have a car and we decided to go sight-seeing with them.”
Me: “Are you going to go to Naples?” (I assumed he was in Rome.)
Caller: “No, just around here. We had a little problem. We were riding around and the Police stopped us. They found illegal drugs in the car and a pistol. I’m innocent, it was proven by checking my DNA – no drugs, and my fingerprints were not on the gun.”
As the only available, older relative, I knew I had to do something. First though, I told him that his uncle, my son could give him some good advice.
Caller: “Even though I am innocent I have to go before the judge this afternoon… and I need $3,300 American. You have to send it to Sgt….) (He gave me a name that didn’t sound Italian to me, but I’m no expert. Once he mentioned money, though, I became suspicious.)
Me: “When did we last talk on the phone?”
Caller: “What?”
Me: “When did we last talk on the phone?”
Caller: “Last week.” (We had talked two or three days before, so “last week” was close.)
Me: “What was the name I used to call you before ‘Pani’?”
Caller: “What?” (I repeated the question. The phone went dead.)

Immediately I called Pani’s cell phone and left a message, “Call me at once!” Then I called my son, and as a cooler head, he told me to call my other grandchildren to see if they knew anything about this “Italy trip.” In about an hour my granddaughter returned my call to report that her daughter had spoken to Pani just the day before. What a relief, but I was still shook-up. Even days later when I think of that call I get tense. Hours after the call as I thought about the conversation I remembered that the caller had said he was going to go before a judge “this afternoon.” At the time of the call it was already night in Italy. Of course, I didn’t catch that during the call. I’m sure that this scam has been tried — and maybe successfully at times — and will probably be used again.

Since cooler heads prevailed — no real damage has been done to our family; but being the grandmother involved in this scam I am still somewhat “shook-up.” Post Script: A few days after the “call from Italy” the Daily News had a story about many grandparents getting calls from faraway places with grandchildren needing money. I knew only too well what those grannies and grandpas had gone through.

Post Post Script: I told my dear friend Jean Strauber (Travel and Entertainment Editor) about my call. About a week later she phoned me, “Do you have a granddaughter named Shawna?” “Yes,” I replied. “And does she do political fund raising on the phone?” “Yes,” said I. “Well after your phony phone call I had to check on her. She called me and when she asked for money and gave me a post box to send it to, I wondered if this was another scam. I asked her what her mother’s name is and where her Granny lives, etc.” I assured Jean that in this case all was legitimate. To this day, when I think about the incident — I still get a bit “shook-up.”

By Iving Lemon

Contributing Columnist

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