BANGOR, Maine — A local great-grandmother might have been the latest victim of a phone scam that would have sucked $1,200 from her pocket — if she hadn’t remembered something she saw in the paper last month.
Dottie Hamm, 75, got a call Thursday morning from a young man claiming to be her 27-year-old grandson. The man said he had been arrested while vacationing in Mexico and needed $1,200 to bail himself out of jail.
Hamm said the man didn’t sound like her grandson. The man’s voice sounded shaky, as though he was about to cry, so she chalked the strange voice up to the fact that her “grandson” was so upset.
“I asked him, ‘How the hell did you get to Mexico?’” Hamm said. The man said a friend had won a free trip, but that he now wished he hadn’t tagged along.
The man referred to Hamm “grammy” and her husband “grampy,” which Hamm questioned because their grandson has always called them “poppy” and “nana.” The man said jail officials were forcing him to call her grandma because “that’s what they call grandmothers.”
“I should’ve known right then,” Hamm said.
After a short conversation, the phone was passed off to another man, who claimed to be guarding Hamm’s grandson. The second man continued to demand money to secure Hamm’s grandson’s release.
“He was really belligerent,” Hamm said. “I think he was trying to scare me.”
Hamm said her suspicions were heightened at this point because she remembered an article she read a few weeks back in the newspaper.
On Feb. 18, the Bangor Daily News reprinted a Foster’s Daily Democrat article about an elderly Berwick “memere” who fell for a similar scam made by a man claiming to be her grandson. That man said he had been involved in a car crash while in the Dominican Republic for a friend’s wedding and needed money for bail.
Less than a week later, the BDN published an article about an elderly Arundel woman who was hoodwinked out of nearly $80,000 over the course of several months by people claiming she had won a Jamaican lottery.
A Bangor grandfather fell victim to scammers in late January, when a caller who sounded exactly like his grandson bilked him out of $7,000 to cover the costs of a car accident in Spain.
Similar scams have been reported by police in towns scattered across the state.
With these stories in mind, Hamm asked the man who claimed to be a guard to ask her “grandson” what his children’s names were. The “guard” dodged the question, saying he would have to travel all the way to the jail to question Hamm’s grandson.
At that point, Hamm said she was sure the call was a ploy and hung up the phone.
She then called her grandson’s parents, who said he was at home in New Hampshire getting ready for work.
Hamm called police to report that she had been a target of the scam, but police couldn’t do much, she said, because she didn’t have caller identification that could have tracked down the source of the call.
“My heart was pounding like a son of a gun,” Hamm said minutes after getting off the phone with police.
Hamm advised others who receive similar calls to pose questions that the relative who is supposedly in trouble would be able to answer easily. For example, ask for the names of their children or pets.
“That was the smart thing to do,” Bangor police Sgt. Paul Edwards said Thursday afternoon.
Edwards said that anyone receiving a similar call should confirm a relative’s whereabouts before sending money to help the person out of any supposed pickle in another country or state. Also, people shouldn’t give out personal, sensitive information over the phone, Edwards said.
Edwards said scams like this should be reported to police or the Federal Trade Commission at 877-382-4357. Having caller identification is extremely helpful in tracking down scam artists, he added.
“I’m so glad I saw [those stories] in the paper and knew it was a scam,” Hamm said.