When the telephone rang recently, a youngish male voice said, “Hello, Grandma.”
“Who is this?” I asked.
“Who do you think?” he replied.
“Oh, David,” I said.
“Yeah,” he said. So we talked about the election, about his upcoming trip to Fresno, about his girlfriend and a number of other things that I brought up.
Then he lowered his voice and said, “Grandma, I’m really embarrassed to tell you that something bad has happened to me.”
“Oh my God, David,” I said, “Are you all right?”
“Well, I’m not at home,” he said. “I traveled with my friend Steven from work to Syracuse, New York, and then we went to see his cousin, who turned out to be a bad guy.”
“What happened?” I inquired anxiously.
“Well, we were driving in his cousin’s car and he blew a stop sign so the cops stopped him. They asked for his driver’s license, but he wouldn’t show it, so they got us out of the car and put us down on the sidewalk, and three other police cars came. They searched the car and found some marijuana, and his cousin lied and said it was ours, not his, so they arrested all of us.”
“David, I’m so sorry,” I said. “Where are you now?”
“In jail and I can only make this one phone call but please, please, I hope you can keep this a secret, please don’t tell anyone else. The cops heard our evidence and said I’m OK, but I can’t leave because the case has to be dismissed in court, and they’re all backed up, and I have to stay in jail for six weeks unless I pay $1,850. I have a lawyer and he is doing this pro bono, so he will send you back your money, don’t worry.”
“David, I have to tell Grandpa, so we can discuss this and then we’ll call your attorney,” I said.
“Please, don’t tell Grandpa,” he begged. “Sorry, but I have to share this with him.”
He gave me his public defender’s phone number and said if I called him, he would tell me how to get the $1,850 to him. I hung up and called my husband, who was on his way home.
Meanwhile, since I didn’t recognize the attorney’s area code, I looked it up and found it was in Toronto. Then I looked up his name in the directory of Syracuse public defenders and found it wasn’t on the list. My suspicions were mounting.
I called David on his cellphone, but there was no answer.
Just as my husband walked in the door, the phone rang, and it was the same young man.
I said, “I thought you couldn’t make any more calls from jail.”
“My attorney is here, and he made the call,” he said. To check further I asked what his mother’s name was.
He immediately got angry and said, “Why are you doing this? Are you crazy? I need you to send the money so I can get out of here. They even took away my shoelaces.”
When my husband got on the phone and began questioning him, he turned the call over to his “attorney” who declined to give any identifying information such as David’s home address or the name of the court. As my husband persisted in his questioning, the attorney hung up the phone.
We were now 90 percent sure this was a scam, but we were still worried about the real David, our grandson. We called the Syracuse Police Department and asked whether anyone by this name had been arrested in the past few days. The answer was no. Then we asked if anyone by the alleged attorney’s name worked as a public defender.
Again the answer was no, but they advised us to make sure our grandson was not being held someplace by calling the police department in the East Coast city where he lives and asking them to go to his apartment and check on him.
We were loath to do that, so we called David at work as a last resort and were relieved and happy when he answered his phone. He was astonished at the story and assured us he was fine. He hadn’t answered his cellphone because he was busy, not kidnapped!
But I wasn’t so fine. It took me more than an hour to get over the fear, shock and chagrin at almost being scammed by a sleazy, crooked opportunist.
Francine M. Farber of Fresno is a retired school district administrator and a full-time community volunteer.