By Joanne Arbogast
The Daily Item
Receiving a phone call that a grandchild has been in an accident or jailed is gut-wrenching. Such news cuts to the core, instantly jangling emotions and clouding the senses.
It doesn’t seem to matter the voice of the “grandchild” on the other end of the phone line, crying for your help, isn’t recognizable, or that the location of the emergency doesn’t quite make sense.
You hear “help” and you are ready to help.
And that’s why the “Grandma, Help Me!” phone hoax continues to be one of the most successful, and cruel, scams making the rounds. Scammers are counting on deeply caring grandparents to respond, without question, by sending hundreds and thousands of dollars to an injured or detained “grandchild.”
While her sister was away, Beth D., 87, last week answered the phone even though it was from “a private caller.” Beth nor her sister, Patricia, 85, who live near Turbotville, rarely answer the phone if they don’t know who is calling.
In tears, a voice cried, “I want to talk to grandma.” He was sobbing and carrying on,” Beth said, and “I was taken aback. I said, ‘Nathan, is that you?’”
Nathan, her sister’s eldest grandchild, attends Susquehanna University.
He said yes and repeated that he wanted his grandma. “But this is Great-Aunt Beth,” she replied, explaining that his grandmother had gone out and she was the only one home.
“Nathan” then told her he had been picked up by the police for having two bags of marijuana and was being taken to jail in a taxi.
The scam part generally comes next, when the “grandchild” pleads for a money-card to be purchased and funds sent.
Beth said she was so upset “I thought I would throw up.” It was only later she wondered why she hadn’t thought to ask him what jail he was being taken to or why he was in a taxi. She also knew she had inadvertently given a stranger way too much personal information, such as the grandson’s real name and that she was alone in the house.
“I’m usually cool, calm and collected, but I lost my train of thought,” she said.
When Patricia returned, Beth was “half in tears” about the phone call. But Patricia was angry — the whole thing sounded familiar.
“My daughter knows some folks in Milton who were victims of this kind of scam,” Patricia said. “They actually did send money and lost it all.”
She was prepared when the next call from “Nathan” came.
“He said, ‘Grandma, it’s me, your grandson,’” Patricia said.
“I asked him ‘which one?’ I have six.” He said “the oldest.”
She asked again, “Which one?”
He said, “Guess.”
Patricia hung up.
Next she called Nathan’s uncle who contacted Nathan’s mother who called Nathan, who was on campus — not in jail, not in a taxi and not in trouble.
If the calls continue, Patricia said she has prepared a “few choice words for him.”
But Beth remains shaken.
“I hope I don’t have nightmares. Could they know where we live?” she wondered. “We don’t have a gun or anything.”
Then again, she added with a nervous chuckle, “We don’t even know how to shoot.”