Community Papers

Reader shares phone scam experience

Did you ever think you were too clever to be duped by a phone scam?  Think again. I thought I was, until last week.

Here’s what happened: I live in Rossland, where I received a phone call from a sobbing male. He gave me the name of my nephew, who resides in Trail. The gist of the phone call (along with the continued sobbing throughout — they weren’t crocodile tears – these are professionals) was that he had taken a friend who was going through a rough time out to dinner where they had a few drinks the night before.

My nephew decided to drive his friend home because he was drunk. They were cut off by a van rented in Calgary by two girls who were employed by Google Earth and rear ended them. My “nephew” sustained a broken nose and stitches to his lip and, after being in emergency for an hour, had his blood alcohol level tested to be 0.081.

This call was supposedly coming from the courthouse where he had just appeared before a judge the following morning. He continued to tell me that these girls had come to the courthouse and told the judge the accident was their fault because they had cut him off. Because of his exemplary record and the girl’s testimony, the judge ruled that if he made restitution to the car rental agency for the damages he would let him off the drunk driving charge with only a warning but he would be detained until the money was sent. I then got a call from his “legal-aid lawyer” who sounded very credible.

He relayed the story again and said my nephew would be released as soon as it was confirmed the money had been sent to the car rental agency and asked when that could be done. He instructed me to send the money via money gram at the Post Office to James Johnston of Calgary.

He told me there would be an additional service charge from the Post Office over and above the amount needed for the van repairs. He also said that if the Post Office questioned me as to the identity of this person that I was to tell them he was a good friend because if I didn’t verify I knew him, there would be an additional $124 charge to send the money.

Not being familiar with sending money grams, I had no clue. Wanting to help out my “nephew”, I sent the money as they asked, thinking I was doing a good deed. The “lawyer” then called me back to get the information he needed to pick up the money gram. He said that my nephew and he would be calling after he was released. Of course, that call never came.

That was when I clicked in to phone my real nephew directly. He told me he was perfectly fine.

The whole thing seems unbelievable to me now, but I was caught in a perfect storm. The caller sounded like my nephew and used his name. My nephew’s parents were out of the country, so it made sense that he would ask us for help because of their absence. Plus, he wouldn’t want them to know how careless his actions had been. I was told this was just between him and me. Finally, I am generally a trusting person, like most of us, who wanted to help a family member in what seemed a rather difficult situation.

This has been a hard lesson to learn both emotionally, financially and from an embarrassment point of view. I’m sure there are a lot of unreported incidents because of that alone, although I understand I am not the only victim of this scam.

Don’t let this happen to you. If you get a call such as this, take a breath and ask the supposed relative some personal questions that only you and they would know. That will usually get them to hang up. If you are totally sucked in like I was, the next thing is to pause and phone the person or relative whom you thought you were helping. That will obviously stop you from foolishly rushing to the Post Office to send the money.

This incident was reported to the RCMP, the local and head office of Canada Post as well as the Canada Anti-Fraud Centre at 1-888-495-8501.

The Post Office is the third line of defense.  At least they are aware and, hopefully, will ask any further patrons who are sending money grams whether they really know the identity of the person they are sending money to so they can alert them to these particular scams and possibly save another victim. If we followed these steps, maybe these scumbags would be put out of business or at least their stolen income would be considerably diminished.

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