I’ll tell you the story. Today is longer than 5 minutes because of this story.
The Grandmother Scam
My family experienced a frightening situation this week, and our anxiety still isn’t lifted.
We live in Ontario, Canada, in relative peace, in a free-ish country. Free to build a business, work as hard as we want, and hopefully leave a lasting legacy for our descendants. We feel free enough that, apparently, we are fertile ground for innovative crimes. I live and work in the space of internet security, so my senses are consistently heightened, but I honestly never expected our own family would be a target. But now, we are jolted to a new reality, and I want to share our story with you.
Our son’s grandma received a call at home from an unknown caller on Thursday afternoon. The voice at the other end said:
To which she responded:
“Nathan? Is that you?”
“Yeah, I’m sorry about my voice; I have a bit of a cold.”
Grandma had no doubt this was, in fact, Nathan speaking at the other end of the line.
Nathan proceeded to speak in a nervous tone and explained that he had only one call he was allowed to make, and he had chosen for it to grandma. It so happens that grandma does have a personal one-on-one connection with each of her grandchildren, and relationships are most important to her, so she wasn’t surprised that she would be the recipient of the only call he’s permitted to make.
Nathan told her he was arrested by the local police but insisted he didn’t want his parents to find out about it. At that point, Nathan handed the phone to Constable Brian Evans, including his phone number and badge number. The officer explained what had just happened in a little more detail.
Local traffic police had pulled over our son. He had a friend with him in the car, and they were searched and found illegal drugs in the trunk inside a backpack. Nathan had already been tested for drugs in his body and was found clean. This apparently was a good sign because he may actually be entirely innocent in this case, but a court of law would only determine it on the following Thursday. In the meantime, he would be detained unless he was bailed out. Bail was set at $10,000. Cash only.
In real-life, Nathan did get his first car. He had been excited to be driving friends around, and the recent enthusiasm around his autonomy is something that grandma fully understood.
The officer proceeded to explain that grandma should tell nobody about this. He expressed an interest in preserving her grandson’s reputation, and it would be best if this incident never leaked to any family members, including us, the parents. The officer told grandma that the bailout would be an option if she were interested in getting her grandson and making sure nothing was leaked to the press. If she wanted to pursue that, she could arrange the cash, and he would call her back with instructions on which police station to meet at.
Grandmas are resourceful. In a matter of her grandson, of course, she would find a way to get the cash. However, grandma, at this point, was torn. How could she leave her daughter in the dark? If she told her, she’d betray her grandson’s confidence. If she didn’t tell her, she might never forgive herself. In a good judgment call, she decided to call her daughter, my wife, and tell her everything that had just happened.
My wife’s instinct is protective in nature as well, and she immediately shared the call details with me, and we decided that she would visit her mom in person while I stayed back home to verify that this wasn’t a scam.
My immediate goal was to get some facts during the next 30 minutes. Outside of law enforcement involvement in cyber security incidents, I don’t have any experience in how police station procedures work, but I wanted to speak to an officer. I couldn’t reach anyone, so I left a message for victim services.
I also messaged one of our other sons to see if he had any communication with Nathan. But he was occupied in class and also unreachable.
The same thing happened when I tried to reach my lawyer. Just voicemail.
Ok, so at this point, I thought I would text our son about the upcoming weekend plans, and everything is still happening? I suspected some foul play, so I thought it best to just text him in the pattern I usually would. He immediately responded that he was looking forward to the weekend. Hmmm ok. I dialed him, even though he was in class. He answered and wondered immediately why I would call him in a class, but I just asked if everything was ok; he, of course, is now wondering what was going on, but I assured him we would chat more later, and we hung up.
At the same time, my wife phoned the school and had the principal confirm in person that our son was in class.
So now we both knew this was some scam run by a criminal group, and our objective now became to assist law enforcement somehow to assist in catching the criminal in the act. At that time, my wife arrived at her mother’s house. Her mother was on the phone with the person impersonating a police officer, and my wife was ready to record the conversation and asked her to put the phone on speakerphone. The criminal perceived that grandma was no longer alone and ended the conversation quickly and never called back.
I called a friend of ours in a special unit with the Ontario Provincial Police and confirmed that we should involve law enforcement. Since the only matter of jurisdiction so far was a phone call, and it was received in Aylmer, we needed to start with the local police.
Fortunately, I could reach someone at the Aylmer police station immediately, and an officer was immediately dispatched to grandma.
He informed them of how these sorts of scams work and that no investigation would be launched. You see, if she had been willing to deliver cash, it would now have been to an unsuspecting mule. Someone who’s paid just to receive some money from a third party, purchase crypto currency with it, and then send it to the criminal group.
We also had a call back from victim services that informed us it was already the third call that day.
So we did lots of learning here.
For one thing, relationships trump crimes of deceit; in families where relationships retain high integrity and honesty, that forms a shield of protection around you. Grandma has this in spades, and it provided her with the security she needed.
Secondly, there were red flags along the way that we wanted to share with others. These red flags don’t appear as such when you’re emotionally dragged into a scam, but knowing about them in advance might just bring them to your consciousness if you find yourself in this situation.
- Police never ask for cash. At least not honest ones. Any financial transactions would be conducted through the court system.
- The sense of urgency. There’s no same-day urgency there if someone is genuinely in custody.
- Information we put out publicly on social media can help criminals formulate a believable story. Not just what we post, but what our friends post and tag us.
I’m at the point now where it’s so clear to me that the net of social media has negatively impacted society, but that’s for another day.
For those confused about my son “Nathan,” that is not his real name. In the meantime, check out this CTV story on the ‘Grandmother scam.’