Panicky call from grandson in jail a scam, could happen to anyone
By Shannon A. MacLeod
Prepared Wednesday, Oct. 6.
Elmer Williams, was working in his Summerside garden on June 25 when his wife, Bernice, passed him the telephone. It was an urgent call from their grandson, Ben.
Ben, who lives in Ontario, said he was in jail in Montreal. He needed $4,815.67 plus a $200 lawyer’s fee so he could be released. He asked themto send the money through Western Union.
Because prisoners aren’t allowed incoming calls, Ben called again that afternoon to obtain the confirmation number from Elmer.
Elmer, 69, asked why the fine was so high and his grandson explained he had been arrested for impaired driving following an accident, but no one was hurt. Elmer was relieved.
Ben told his grandfather not to tell anyone, especially his parents, who also live in Ontario.
Once Elmer withdrew the $5,000 and wired it to the Montreal lawyer through Western Union, Ben called again to thank him and said he and friends were going to a folk festival.
The next day, Bernice told Elmer about a conversation she’d had with their daughter, Ben’s mother, who said Ben was still in bed after finishing a night shift and he hadn’t been feeling well since returning from work.
“How could be at work in Ontario if he was in jail in Montreal?”
Montreal and Western Union. Elmer knew what had happened.
“Bernice, we have been scammed, that wasn’t Ben.”
They called their daughter and asked to speak to Ben.
Ben was not in Montreal. He had not been arrested and he had not called his grandparents.
“Oddly enough, I was so relieved that Ben was not in trouble I forgot about the $5,000,” Elmer said.
But not for long. He called police, but was told there would be little chance of recovery.
The first mistake he made was assuming the role of a parent. He wanted to protect his grandson, he said.
“This is when your emotions come into play.”
It was eerie how much the fake Ben sounded like his grandson, he said.
“This voice is the same as my grandson. You can’t be suspicious of every voice.”
Looking back, the two major-red flags he missed were Western Union and Montreal, he said.
“I wasn’t thinking, I was in action mode.”
Olive Bryanton is the project coordinator for the Prince Edward Island Senior Safety Program.
The program has four areas they focus on: home and personal care, frauds and scams, the vial of life (a tactic for emergency personnel to quickly access vital information on each member of a household) and the identification of valuables.
The program’s role is to educate seniors, Bryanton said.
“Scams are going on out there (and we) give them the tools they need to protect themselves.”
Joyce McCardle is the project coordinator in Summerside. There are different ways to reach seniors, she said.
“We do group presentations and we also go out and do one-on-one for seniors who aren’t able to get out. We go to their home and educate them.”
People need to be aware, scams happen all the time and to be wary of anyone, even someone you believe to be family asking for money, said Bryanton.
“If someone like (Elmer) can get scammed, then it could happen to anyone.”