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Moseyin’ Along

The Gramma Scam: A Cautionary Tale

February 28, 2015
By Joyce Schenk , Westfield Republican

The voice on the phone sobbed out, "Gramma, I'm in trouble. I need your help."

My mind raced. Could this be my responsible, dependable grandson, Ryan? No way! But I had to hear more.

"Honey," I said, "what have you gotten yourself in to?"

The sobbing continued along with the well-concocted story, aimed at convincing me of Ryan's plight. The tale involved Ryan and a friend, a free trip to New York, a taxi, drugs found in the trunk and jail time.

"Gramma," the voice sounded suddenly firm, "Promise me you won't tell anyone."

By now, I knew what was happening and decided to see how far this scam would go. Few things anger me more than people taking advantage of the elderly. (Now that I'm 80, I realize that designation fits me, too!)

I said to the voice, "Of course, honey. What can I do?"

"Talk to the cop."

The "arresting officer" took the phone, introducing himself as Sgt. Donald James of the NY City Police Dept.

As if reading a report, he told me Ryan and his pal were riding in a taxi driven by a Haitian. The driver claimed the bags in the trunk, filled with drugs, belonged to the boys.

The boys were arrested, drug tested and given lie detector tests. The police were finally convinced the drugs involved belonged to the taxi driver.

Sgt James said, "But, until the judge hears the case, we'll have to hold the boys, unless bail is posted." I tried to sound suitably upset, "What can I do to resolve this?"

He said he'd transfer me to the Bail Department.

Next, Officer James Parker of the 7th precinct came on the line. He went into detail about how to get my supposed grandson out of a New York City jail.

Since the drugs were determined to be Haitian, the case would have to be handled in Haiti. The bail of $1980 had to be sent to contacts in Haiti.

The money, in cash. no checks or credit cardshad to be sent through Western Union.

He cautioned me not to tell anyone at the bank or the Western Union office that this was for a relative with drug problems.

"That information could follow your grandson and be on his permanent record," he warned.

With those instructions, he asked how long it would take me to follow through.

I tried to sound determined, "Well, when I get off the phone with you, I can do it right now. I'd say within an hour."

He left me with, "I'll call you back in an hour so you can give me the Western Union receipt numbers."

As soon as I hung up, I called my daughter, Ryan's mother. "Where is Ryan?" I asked.

She told me he was in his college class in Sarasota.

With that final assurance, I called the local police.

In a short time, Lt. Richard Mohaupt of the Punta Gorda Police Dept. was at my door to take my statement.

As I told him the story, he nodded. "With our large population of retired folks, we're getting a lot of these scams lately," he said.

Just as he finished gathering information for his report, my phone rang.

When I answered, it was Officer Parker calling to confirm I had followed his instructions.

I handed the phone to Lt. Mohauupt who asked the caller, "Who is this, please?"

The caller repeated it was Officer Parker of the New York City Police. Lt. Mohaupt said firmly, "Well, this is Lt. Richard Mohaupt of the Punta Gorda Police Department.


Lt. Mohaupt smiled as he handed me the phone. "Too bad," he said, "I would have liked to chat with him."

Unfortunately, the police tell me they can do nothing to stop these scams since they originate off shore. But, by making the public aware, the police hope to alert seniors to the threat so they will not become victims.



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