May 17, 2017ATTICA — Diane Malczewski was out running errands when her husband received an urgent call on the home phone.
Their 25-year-old grandson Travis was in trouble. He'd been at a funeral in New York state, and had a little too much to drink while reminiscing with friends. He ended up getting a DUI.
The caller was an officer of the court. He told Diane's husband Michael that it would take $1,500 to get Travis released as quickly as possible.
Of course, Michael was skeptical. He asked the court officer to put his grandson on the phone.
Michael listens and hears "Grandpa, I'm in trouble. I got a ticket for driving drunk and in order for me to get out of jail you have to wire $1,500. I don't want to be in jail all day! Please don't tell Mom and don't tell Grandma."
Michael was convinced. Travis was in trouble and he wanted to help.
He didn't call Travis's mom, as she was recovering from an illness and he didn't want to upset her.
He called Diane and filled her in, telling her that the court officer asked for a debit card number.
"I said absolutely not," Diane recalls. "I told him that if he had to send money, send cash."
And so he did. He make a $1,500 wire transfer from a Walmart in Lapeer. The funds were wired to a Walmart in New York.
"When he came home he waited for a little while and then he called the guy and said 'okay, I wired the money,'" Diane says.
Michael waited a little longer before trying to call Travis. About an hour later, he rang his grandson and Travis answered the phone.
"Are you out of jail?" Michael asked. He was stunned at the response.
"What are you talking about Grandpa? I was never in jail," his grandson responded.
Michael told Travis about the phone call from New York—that he'd wired money to get him out of jail.
"Grandpa, hang up the phone and call the police," Travis said.
Michael was beyond angry when he learned he'd been duped. Diane says he is still fuming, asking himself how it could have happened.
"He was absolutely convinced that it was my grandson's voice on the phone," Diane says. "He called Travis three or four times and asked him 'how did they get your voice on the phone? They copied your voice.'"
Travis had no idea how the scammers pulled it off, but acknowledged that with modern technology nothing's impossible.
The Malcziewskis called the Lapeer County Sheriff's Department, and Deputy Nick VanDenBerg is investigating the case.
Unfortunately, Michael is not alone. After sharing the story with her friends over lunch, she learned that almost everyone at the table had fallen victim to a similar scam.
Diane believes it's important to share the story to raise awareness so that others aren't swindled out of their hard earned cash.
According to Michigan Attorney General Bill Schutte, the 'Grandparents Scam' is widespread across the country.
"In one instance, Michigan grandparents were taken for $33,000. They wire transferred $3,000 to someone they thought was their grandson after he called and claimed he was caught fishing without a license in Canada and needed to pay a $3,000 fine," Schutte says in a press release. "They were taken for an additional $30,000 after the supposed grandson called again to say that alcohol and drugs were found when his boat was searched, and he needed $30,000 to post bond to get out of a Canadian jail."
He offers the following tips to avoid being taken:
Be suspicious when you receive a telephone call where:
• A grandchild calls you from a far away location.
• The grandchild says,
"It's me," or "It's your grandson," or "It's your favorite grandchild."
• The grandchild is in some trouble or some type of distress.
• The caller asks for money to be wire transferred.
It's important to verify the identity and location of the grandchild claiming to be in trouble. Call another family member who can confirm the grandchild's whereabouts.
"Try calling your grandchild at the telephone number through which you normally reach him or her. Stay calm and avoid acting out of a sense of urgency," the press release says. "Do not wire money unless you have verified with an independent third party that your grandchild is truly in trouble."
In addition, never give out any personal identifying information such as bank account or credit card numbers to anyone who calls you on the phone.
Catherine Minolli is Managing Editor of the Tri-City Times. She began as a freelance writer with the Times in 1994. She enjoys the country life, including raising ducks and chickens.