Almanac

News - August 20, 2014

Grandmother gives 'grandson' scammer a piece of her mind

by Dave Boyce

A would-be confidence man tried the grandson-impersonation scheme on Menlo Park travel consultant Carolyn Bakar with an early morning telephone call on Aug. 14, but got nowhere. He did get an earful, though.

Ms. Bakar, who lives in Palo Alto and works out of Ladera Travel in the Sharon Heights Shopping Center, said that the call did upset her, but not to the point of being persuaded to hand over the $1,000 the con man was asking for.

"It's a shame that these people are out there doing this to people," she told the Almanac. Then she told her story.

The con man called her at home at 8:14 a.m. "The voice. The voice was just so incredibly similar to my grandson," she said. "Just that tone of his voice. He must have known him."

That similarity served the con man well, given that Ms. Bakar doesn't often see her 19-year-old grandson Eric and tends to talk with him by phone. The con man also "knew to call me grandma," she said, another eerie similarity he shared with her real grandson. Not all of her grandchildren use that name when talking with her, she said.

"Eric? EB?" she said, responding with her nickname for her grandson. "Where are you?"

"Vancouver," the caller said.

Why Vancouver, she asked. Ms. Bakar told the Almanac that she understood Eric and his father to be on a golfing holiday in Carmel.

He was in Vancouver because he had gotten an invitation and free plane tickets to a friend's wedding, the caller said.

"I should have gotten it right there because he's not old enough to have friends who are getting married," Ms. Bakar told the Almanac.

The con man said that he'd been in an auto accident, that he was OK, but that there had been an open wine bottle that spilled inside the vehicle and that he'd been arrested. His court appearance was scheduled for the next day.

"I should have said, 'Where's your father?' I was so upset to get a call at 8:14 in the morning, knowing that they had gone yesterday to play golf. The only thing I could think of was that he couldn't reach his father. ... I was thinking that he was calling to tell me that something had happened to his dad. I wasn't thinking rationally because of that."

At one point, she said she noticed that she was shaking.

Her rational thinking kicked in when the caller said he needed $1,000 to get out of jail. "As soon as he said, 'Send $1,000,' I knew it was a scam," she said.

The call came to a quick and colorful conclusion. "I never use foul language. That's something I detest," Ms. Bakar said, but for this guy, she made an exception. "You're a f---ing liar and a scam artist and I'm going to have this call traced and have you arrested," she said.

The con man sounded startled, Ms. Bakar said, then said: "You're such an old lady. You must have dementia and I think I'd better call an ambulance and have you taken to the hospital."

And that's how the call ended, she said. She called the non-emergency number for the Palo Alto police and was told to contact the identity theft office of the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC suggested that she call the California attorney general, she said.

She reflected on the incident and the brevity of the caller's utterances. "There was no back and forth," she said. "The more he talked, the more I came to realize that this was not (my grandson)."

Her grandson is also close with two uncles and would have asked them for money first, she added.

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