This morning I was sitting in my remedies class, and my phone blows up first with a text message from my brother who I rarely speak to, and then a phone call from the area code and prefix of my home town. Normally I would ignore these types of calls/texts until after class, but considering the amount and frequency of communication I have with my brother, and then the call from the area I knew him to be in, I thought something was up.
The texts went like this:
Him: You good?
Him: someone tried to scam grandma and said you were in jail
At which point I had to step out of class and call him and really get the low down on this situation. I am not in jail. I haven’t been to jail since probably November or December, and that was to visit clients. I will do my best to describe my understanding of the situation based first on my conversation with my brother, later I will fill in the gaps and clarify what actually happened. Apparently, my grandmother(Who will turn 87 this July) received a call from someone she thought was me, stating that I was involved in a drunk driving hit and run accident. My best friend was in the hospital in a coma, I was in jail and needed money for bail. My friend’s father was a lawyer and would call her to arrange the details for bail. Apparently right after this, she got a call from someone claiming to be the lawyer, walking her through how to get the bail money to him. My concern at this point was that my identity was being stolen. The message I got from my brother, which was second hand from my grandmother’s telling him, was that this person seemed to know enough about me to convince my grandmother that he was in fact me.
The call that I received from the local area code and prefix was from the PNC bank in the town, trying to get in touch with me. As it turns out, she went to the bank to withdraw $5,000 in $100 bills, to then go to CVS and purchase blue dot or green dot vouchers. Not sure exactly what these are, but I think they are pre-paid credit or debit cards. She was then to call back the “lawyer” at a phone number that isn’t a local number. The so-called lawyer called himself Dennis Murphy and provided a return number is (438) 939-6320. I had just read a few articles and had been alerted by my wife of these missed call scams from numbers like that. Calling those numbers back is something like a 900 number where you are charged per minute or what not, and the caller gets some if not all of that money you are charged. In any event, this behavior appropriately raised a red flag to the teller, and then the manager at the PNC bank. I commend them on their head’s up on this and thwarting the scheme at that point.
Later on in the afternoon, I was able to actually get ahold of my grandmother. Being the almost lawyer that I am, my line of questioning quickly got me to the bottom of what was really happening. I asked her to walk me through the phone call, as best as she could remember and exactly what was said. She told me that the phone rang from a private or blocked number, and it went something like this:
Caller: You know who this is, right?
Caller: I’m sorry if I sound strange, I’ve got a bit of a cold. I was in a car accident last night, and now I’m in jail. I need your help getting bail money.
At this point I cut in and asked her if that, in fact, was how the conversation went, she confirmed.
I then proceeded to ask her “did he ever mention that he was me using my actual name” to which she was fairly certain that he did not. At this time I was fairly certain that my grandmother was the primary victim in this situation, and that I wasn’t even a factor in this. Originally I thought that I was the primary victim and that she was the secondary victim in the situation. I then explained to her what I believed to have transpired.
This is clearly a scam. Whether these people are calling everyone at random, or have some sort of list or system of determining who they are calling they are calling and saying “grandma” or “grandpa” or possibly “mom/dad” if they feel that the voice sounds younger. They are playing the law of averages, knowing that they may get hung up on 100 times before anyone talks to them, and 100 more before anyone falls for their ruse.
My grandmother is aware of the fact that I am in my last semester of law school. She knows it is important to me to not miss class, and told me explicitly that all she wanted was to make sure that I was bailed out of jail and could go back to class so I could finish my law degree. While it is great to know that she supports me like this, it is also a little scary.
These scammers are clearly out there calling as many possible people that they can. They know that if they succeed in this scam one time every month that they’ve made $60,000 in the year. If they succeed once per week, it’s a quarter of a million dollars.
Be on alert for this, or anything that sounds like this. Do your due diligence and advise your friends and family members of the same. If someone calls your claiming to be in jail and needing help and pretending to be someone you know, get off the phone and call the person back that they claim to be on their number. If you don’t get them, maybe it really was them (i.e if I were actually in jail I wouldn’t have been able to answer).
You should be doubly alerted if the phone numbers they call from are blocked, and if the numbers you’re supposed to call back are not in the area code–especially if you’re supposed to be calling a lawyer to help someone bail out of jail.
I don’t have intimate knowledge of my grandmother’s financial situation, but I’m certain that being scammed for $5,000 would have been a pretty big hit. It would have been for me and I don’t know too many people that would be OK with throwing away that kind of money. Be aware, be alert, and double check everything that claims to be something it might not be.
Spread the word.
Maryland Attorney Jobeth Bowers is the founder of Bowers Law and a graduate of the University of Baltimore School of Law