Extremely Clever Telephone Scam

This story has a happy ending, but that might not be the case for someone else, so a word of warning is in order.

This morning while my husband was out walking, I received a telephone call.  “Hi, Grandma.”  “Hi, how are you?”  “Do you know who this is?”  “Yes, Ben.”  (Ben is the only grandson who is an adult.  I haven’t talked to him in a while, but the voice was similar.)  “Did you hear about my trip?”  “No, what’s up?”  “My friend won a trip to Ecuador, and he asked me to go with him.”  “Wow, that’s nice.  When do you leave?”  “I’m there now.”  (Voice cracking) — “I’m in a little trouble.”

“Ben” went on to explain that his friend was driving and ran a stoplight.  They were pulled over by the police, and because they were Americans, they were told to get out of the car. The car was searched, and marijuana was found in the trunk.  “Grandma, my drug test was clean — you know I wouldn’t do that.  Don’t tell Mom.  I only have one phone call, and I called you.  I need you to help me.  The American Embassy gave me a court-appointed attorney.  I need you to talk to him.”  I made Ben promise that he would tell his mother, and told him that I wouldn’t.  He said he would, but wanted to do it himself.  I tried to get specific information about where he was, but he started crying, and I was passed off to the attorney.

The attorney identified himself as “Ron Stein.”  He explained what happened, verified the drug test was clean, and said the problem is that Americans usually have to wait 60 days in jail before getting a courtroom.  The attorney was able to get a courtroom today (in two hours), but only upon a “bail deposit — completely refundable” of $2,848, which I was supposed to get to the attorney via a money gram.

The possibility of a scam began to ramble in my head, but I kept hearing Ben’s voice in my head.  The voice had really sounded like my grandson.  I told the attorney that I needed to call my husband before I did anything, and asked for his phone number, which he gave to me.  I hung up the phone and called my husband to tell him to come home.  While waiting for my husband to arrive, I looked at the phone number “Ron Stein” had given me, and realized there was no country code.  (I’ve had enough family members serve as missionaries for the Mormon church to know that calling out of the United States requires extra digits in the phone number.)  On my computer, I looked up free reverse phone numbers and plugged in Mr. Stein’s number.  It came up as a number in Quebec, Canada.  Hmmm.  Why would the American Embassy get a Canadian court-appointed attorney for a kid stuck in Ecuador?  I still have no explanation as to why there is no country code.

When my husband arrived, I gave him the rundown of what was going on.  He remembered that my grandson didn’t have a passport.  I suggested we call Ben’s mother, and without telling her what was going on, just ask a few questions.  That phone call convinced me that Ben was okay.  Just to make sure, I told his mother to call Ben and find out if he was okay and to call me back.  It turned out that Ben had just done a photo shoot and was headed for the bank to make a deposit.  He was perfectly fine, and quite “local.”

A short time later, Mr. Stein called me back.  “Mrs. White, how are you?”  “I’m fine, and so is my grandson.”  He hung up on me.  I filed a police report.

Happy ending — Ben is fine, I didn’t get scammed, and the police are going after the bad guys. Just a word of warning:  Brain versus heart:  We all want to help loved ones in a crisis situation.  Our hearts sometimes get in the way of common sense.  Being the jaded curmudgeon that I am, I stepped back and let my brain take over for my heart.  I’m glad I did.  My grandson has now been given a code word to give me in case of emergency.  Beware of your heart.  Step back, take a breath, use your brain, and THEN, if appropriate, go with your heart.