I recently received a call from my 87-year-old mother asking me whether my son Josh was OK. She wanted me to be completely honest with her. She could handle any bad news.
I responded that I assumed he was fine and that I had not heard anything to the contrary. I could tell she was skeptical. And that began to worry me, not for Josh but for her. I asked her to explain her fear. And thus a story began to unfold, one I’ve since learned unfolds dozens, if not hundreds of times each day across the nation.
It seems that morning, Mom had received a call from a young man who identified himself as her oldest grandson. She thought for a second or two (not long enough) and responded, “Josh?” The caller confirmed that he was indeed Josh. Red flag #1: Josh is not her oldest grandson.
Next “Josh” asked Mom whether she thought his voice sounded funny. “It sure does”, she replied. He explained his funny voice was the result of a traffic accident the night before that resulted in a broken jaw. Red flag #2. She was hooked.
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What followed were so many red flags I lost count. “Josh” was in Vegas. Joshua lives in Raleigh. “Josh” was attending a friend’s bachelor party. Monday night in Vegas? “Josh” had too much to drink. Nope, that’s not our Joshua. “Josh” had been in a wreck caused by a pregnant woman. Well, that could have happened I guess. “Josh” needed money – and he needed it now. Most importantly, “Josh” told Mom to keep all of this a secret. Nobody must know. And she kept it a secret.
All these red flags – clear as day – in a script that is repeated over and over each day. And yet the only thing Mom heard was that her grandson was in trouble. That’s what she locked on. She was putty in the hands of a scammer – 87 years of experiences, reason and seasoned logic out the window.
My mother, Jean Marie, following the instructions to a T,
drives to the bank and cashes a check for $1,500. “Josh” had given her a location from which she could wire the money – a CVS in Ogden near her home north of Wilmington. This scammer not only had her phone number, he also knew her neighborhood.
Mom, come on, how would our Joshua know from where you could wire him money? And, Mom, the wiring instructions? To someone in the Dominion Republic? She was possessed.
But, alas, the MoneyGram is not working! Not to be deterred, Mom calls the fake Josh back with the news, and he is ready with the next nearest location – another CVS up the road in Hampstead, where the wire is successfully completed. Poof: $1,500 leaves Mom’s wallet and the country.
But wait. There’s more. Jean Marie now relaxing at lunch, having saved her second-oldest grandson, receives another call. “The transfer did not go through … please go back and do it again.” Zombie. This time, an alert store manager, Will Huggins, overhears bits of her story and intervenes. He quickly contacts MoneyGram, and it seems the crooks have yet to pick up the cash awaiting them. Lazy and greedy. The wire is reversed and the money returned to mom. Will had gotten through to her. They hug. Thanks, Will.
Finally, late in the day, she calls me, her youngest (and real) son. She still fears for Josh’s wel-lbeing – the residual of the scammer’s power that she gave to him as readily as he took it. It was all so real to her. Eventually embarrassment sets in as she looks back with increasing clarity.
Embarrassment can be a great motivator. And, boy, is she embarrassed! To Mom’s credit, she has been willing to share her misadventure with her fellow residents at Plantation Village. She also is willing to have me share her story in hopes that others can avoid falling prey to this sort of scam. A quick Google search of “Grandparent Scams” reveals the magnitude and disgusting nature of this type of crime.
Mom got her money back. She was lucky in that regard. She wasn’t hurt. But that this could happen to her – that she could allow it – has shaken her to the core. If it were possible, I’d gladly pay $1,500 to restore her confidence.
Boomers, talk to your parents.
Lacy M Walthall lives in Raleigh.