Marcella Henderson waited more than three hours at the Van Buren Township Public Safety Committee meeting on Jan. 18 to tell the story of how she almost got taken in a scam – and to warn other seniors about the danger.
Henderson said she has learned that VBT Police Officer Adam Byrd will be at September Days Senior Center at 10 a.m., Tuesday, Feb. 7, for a Public Safety Round Table. She said she will be there, too, to tell her story and warn the other seniors.
Byrd, formerly the community policing officer, is now primarily assigned to road patrol. But he will be at the meeting to tell seniors about crime trends in the township.
Henderson waited until the end of the Public Safety meeting to tell her story. She knew the meeting would be recorded and shown on the VBT cable channel. She wanted her message to get out to as many people as possible.
She began by saying she wanted to tell about a scam and, “I about got caught up in it.”
She said she recently received a 9 a.m. telephone call that began with, “Hi, grandma.” She thought it was her grandson and said his name.
The “grandson” said he was in Peru after his buddy won a contest that provided two free tickets to Peru and the buddy invited him to go along.
Henderson said she mentioned how nice that was for his friend to take him along.
The “grandson” continued his story: His buddy had a cousin in Peru and they were riding along in the cousin’s car when the cousin was stopped for speeding.
The story went on: The police found the cousin had an expired license and then found pot in the glove box.
Her “grandson” said he took a drug test, which came out negative. He was supposed to be in the American Embassy and had a court-appointed attorney, who wanted to talk to her.
The “attorney” asked which case this was and she gave her grandson’s name. The “attorney” said he needs $2,600 and couldn’t take a credit card. He emphasized her grandson was a good kid who innocently got caught up in something.
He told Henderson to send the money by Western Union and told her two sites close to her home where the service was available.
“I went to my bank to get the money,” Henderson went on, as members of the committee listened politely.
She said the “attorney” had told her not to say anything to anyone, since it might get back to Peru and her grandson could be punished for saying bad things about the country.
“The bank teller said, ‘Are you sure it’s not a scam?’” Henderson went on, saying the teller said her grandmother was caught in a scam like that and lost $7,000, only the story was that a family member was in a bad accident and the money needed to be wired to Canada.
“She got right in my face,” Henderson said of her teller.
Henderson said the teller had never done that before, so she decided to do some checking. Her grandson lived in Alaska with his mother. Henderson didn’t want to call her daughter because she has been ill and she didn’t want to upset her with news her son was in jail in Peru.
But, Henderson reluctantly dialed the number and her grandson answered the phone. She asked about him being in Peru and the grandson knew nothing about it.
She said she gave her grandson the phone number she was supposed to call to get a routing number for the Western Union cable and her grandson gave the man a good talking to.
The man told him, “I know where your grandma lives and I’ll get her.”
The grandson reportedly told the man he has a shotgun.
“I want people to know this. I’d hate for other seniors to get involved in something like this,” Henderson said.
“Thank God for my tellers,” she added.
She said she and her son live together, but he wasn’t home. When he found out what happened he told her never to send any money without telling him.
“I want to get the word out,” she stated.
Public Safety Director Carl McClanahan said he got a similar call on his cell phone while he was out of town, but he noticed it was an Indiana exchange so he answered.
The person calling said McClanahan had a problem with his student loan, and McClanahan told the committee he does have a student loan.
He said the man said all he needed was McClanahan’s Social Security Number to clear it up. That’s when he got suspicious and started asking questions about where the loan was from. When the answers were wrong, McClanahan said he hung up the phone.
“I was very nearly the victim of a scam,” he said.
Henderson said it was her understanding that scam artists hit particular areas at one time and, “They’re hitting this area.”
She said if she can keep just one other person from getting scammed, she’ll feel her efforts have been worthwhile.
Public Safety Committee vice chairman Ramone Crowe said the stories in the scams keep changing, but people need to remember not to give information or money to people they don’t know.
“And, once you send it by Western Union, it’s gone and the police can’t help you,” Henderson stated.