Posing as an Ashland woman's 22-year-old granddaughter, a con artist's over-the-telephone plea for thousands of dollars to repair a damaged vehicle so she could get out of a Canadian jail didn't fool this savvy granny.
According to the con artist, who was mimicking the 22-year-old perfectly, Dianne Murray's granddaughter was in jail, charged with driving under the influence of intoxicants and reckless endangerment. She needed thousands of dollars, the caller claimed, to repair a car she'd damaged the night before or she'd have to stay in jail.
The call showed up on Murray's phone at 9 a.m., registered to a number from Toronto, Canada, where her granddaughter was supposedly calling from jail.
"I had no doubt that I was talking to my granddaughter," 78-year-old Murray said. "They sounded exactly like her."
She started getting suspicious when her pseudo granddaughter asked Murray to keep the mishap a secret from her parents.
"The money isn't the problem," Murray told her supposed granddaughter. "You're in a foreign country, you need some help with this ... your parents need to know."
Plus, Murray thought to herself, "maybe a few hours in the holding tank isn't such a bad idea in this situation."
Her granddaughter said she would have her attorney call back, and the first call ended, Murray said.
She tried calling family members to alert them to the situation, she said, but no one answered, and about 45 minutes later the fake attorney called back.
"We were told her parents wouldn't help," the man, who introduced himself as Claude, told Murray. "And I said 'No, they can help,' " she said.
"Well, can't you help?" Claude said, impatiently.
That was it. Murray remembered reading about similar situations, she said.
"This is beginning to sound more and more like a scam phone call, and my next call will be to the police station," she said she told Claude. "The line went dead."
Murray called authorities and passed along the phone number, 416-777-7775, she said. Police told her the number had been reported by people targeted by scams in the past.
Murray's next call was to her granddaughter's cellphone. She picked up on the first ring, sitting at home in Olympia, Wash.
"Making that call a little sooner would have brought this to a quick end," Murray said. "But you panic. Your granddaughter is in jail; she is hurt. I panicked."
Murray said the time between phone calls gave her a chance to calm down and realize the situation.
"A victim of a scam is being asked to take an action," she said. "A person in their mind during the phone call needs to take charge ... and decide what action you think is appropriate."
Ashland police Deputy Chief Corey Falls said the most important thing a person can do in a situation like Murray's is to verify all of the information being presented in the conversation before taking any action.
"There are a lot of people out there trying to take advantage of citizens through scams ... over the phone, texting, email," Falls said. "They prey on citizens who want to help and want to do good."
The scammers who tried to best Murray with what is known as the "grandparents scam" made many personal references, one about a mole on her granddaughter's neck, she said. Police told Murray con artists use Facebook and other online resources to mimic and obtain personal information about possible victims before moving in for a scam, she said.
"You have to do your best to remain calm and just listen," Murray said. "You will hear the holes in their story."