$139 fraud lesson

I delivered over 1700 cardboard boxes and other supplies to the Boomershoot site today. I folded a couple hundred of the boxes and stored them away in crates. Then I visited my parents who live a couple miles away.

They asked how everyone was doing, did son Jamie (he used to be called Jamie rather than James and his grandparents still use that name) like his job okay? How long has he worked at Microsoft now? I told him everything was going fine, Xenia was a little depressed because her new husband is leaving for Iraq very soon. James, Kim, and Lisa (another grandchild) had housewarming party at James’ new home near Seattle. Blah, blah, blah…

As it got late I told them I really had to leave so I could be home in time to eat dinner with Barb who would be getting off work soon. I had stood up, put my hat on and took a step or two toward the door when Dad told me to sit down because he had another story to tell. The following are his exact words as best I can remember them:

I got a call the other day. He said, “Hi Grandpa, this is Jamie. How are you doing?” I said I was doing okay and asked how he was doing.

He asked me if I could keep a secret. I told him I thought I probably could because I had keep a secret or two in my life. He said that he wasn’t doing so well. He was in jail in Ottawa. I asked how that happened. He said that he and a friend had gone to a concert and when they came back over the border they were stopped, searched, and his friend had some marijuana in his backpack. They were both arrested and he needed $2800 to get out of jail.

He asked if I could help him out and I said I thought we probably could. He wanted the money sent via Western Union and he needed it right away. So your mom and I drove to Orofino went to the bank and got the money. But we started thinking that we should have asked a few more questions. “Why didn’t he call you?”, for example. But we went to the Western Union office at the IGA and told them what we wanted to do with the money and told them the story.

The woman there said to be really careful because there are a lot of people trying to commit fraud with Western Union. But we went ahead and sent the money but told them not to give it to anyone at the other end until we did some more checking. They gave us a toll-free number to call to okay the final delivery of the money.

We came back to the house and called the guy in Ottawa that was supposed to pick up the money for Jamie and I asked him, “How tall is Jamie?” He didn’t answer. I asked him some other questions too but he didn’t answer those questions either. He then got upset and asked, “Why are you asking me all these questions? Did you send the money or not?” I told him we didn’t and he hung up the phone.

I called the Western Union number and they sent the money back. I called the Orofino office but they wouldn’t do anything further until we came in and showed them picture ID. We didn’t get back into town until yesterday and they wrote us three checks. The biggest check they can write is $1000 so they wrote us two checks for $1000 and another check for most of the remainder. It still cost us $139 but that wasn’t too bad. It would have been a lot worse if it had been the whole $2800.

You, know if the police had been able to get together on that they could have caught them when they went to pick up the Western Union money. But he said he needed the money within two hours. I told him there wasn’t any way I could get the money that fast. But he wanted it right away.

I asked if they had reported it to the police. He said no. And I said the FBI, if no one else, would be interested because it was Interstate wire fraud. Dad said he would let my brother Doug tell them. I asked if he had told Doug. He said no. Brother Gary was there and he piped up that this was the first time he had heard the story too. He had seen Mom and Dad leave for Orofino the other day but they told him they were going to the Builder’s Supply. They did go there, but that wasn’t the primary reason for the trip into town. They were trying to keep the secret for James.

I think Dad and Mom are a little embarrassed. They are 86 and 84 years old and not thinking quite as quick as they used to. We discussed lots of ways it could have been prevented from going as far as it did. I made sure they had the cell phone numbers for everyone in our family so they could call us directly to check things out. And I told them I didn’t think James had ever been to a concert other than little things in the park and that he had never been to Canada let alone a part of Canada 2000+ miles away.

I’m writing this down so brother Doug can get the story as I heard it as well as getting the details from Dad again. Plus I’m sure my parents aren’t the first people these criminals have tried to scam and if they aren’t stopped and other people get some warning there will be others they are successfully with. This is to help warn others about the scam.

I expect there will be more to the story. There certainly still are a number of questions. Like how did they find out how my parents had a grandson by the name of Jamie? Facebook maybe? Probably something to do with the Internet. Perhaps even my blog (if you guys are reading this you should know I keep all my blog log files and will cooperate fully with law enforcement).

If anything further comes out that I can talk about I’ll let you know.

Update: Mike sent me an email with this link to news that this scam is reasonably well known.


9 thoughts on “$139 fraud lesson

  1. This is most confusing, to say the least. No doubt it was successful with someone else, and I think my grandparents would be fooled just as quickly by the same trick. Definitely something to think about, although I think that sort of thing would be harder to pull on me than it would for Jamie (given the time zones, money exchange taking time, etc.).

    I’m glad that your parents didn’t part ways with more money. If you work out how they managed to find out the link to your grandparents, be sure to let us know.

  2. This is getting to be a pretty common fraud. I’ll bet money the caller “fished ” for James name. The bad guys are pretty good at this.

    Bad guy:Hi Gramma this is your grandson.

    Gramma: Jamie????

    badguy: yeah gramma, Jammie.

    and so it goes….

  3. My wife’s grandparents recently had almost exactly the same scam pulled on them. The caller claimed to be her brother, Mark, and told her grandparents that he was in New York with a broken leg and didn’t want anyone to know. Mark is the free spirit of the family, and the idea that he could have taken off to New York and gotten into a bind is actually plausible. But he wanted Western Union, too, and something didn’t seem right to them. They, too, asked why he hadn’t just called his dad, and he said he was embarrassed.

    They called my father-in-law (Mark’s father) right away, and he called us. Unfortunately, Mark wasn’t answering his cell phone, and nobody had another number for him. But that was suspicious enough that they figured they’d wait and see what shook out, and a couple of hours later Mark called back. He was safe and sound in Minnesota where he belonged . . . wondering what all the fuss was about.

  4. Someone (in the proper frame of mind) could have fun with this, realizing that this is a scam from the start. Scam the scammers, tease them. Make up excuses for delays, “promise” them that the money is coming, feed them phony Western Union verification info (oh, did I say THIS? I meant to say THAT.). Make them run back & forth from their home computer to the WU office.

    Google BustedUpCowgirl for more ideas & details.

    I used to have fun with this, too. . . .

  5. sounds like your parents have nothing to be ashamed of. they figured it out and kept the bad guy from getting the money. i’d be proud of them.

  6. I’ve seen a warning on just this scam recently. Can’t say where off-hand, but you are the first person that I’ve heard of reporting it happening to a family member. I had thought it was more of an urban legend, but apperantly not.

  7. Interesting story. We had an experience a couple years ago trying to send our daughter-in-law some money via Western Union. We were told several times that she had picked up the money, but she had not. Turns out an employee at the receiving Western Union office had forged the delivery proof and pocketed the money. It took us about 6 months before we finally got our money returned. Your folks were lucky relatively speaking.

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