'Grandmother' gives 'grandson' scammer a piece of her mind

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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Posted by Touche'
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 20, 2014 at 1:02 pm

Way to go Granny!!!

Fast thinking on your feet! :)

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Posted by call his parents?
a resident of Woodside School
on Aug 20, 2014 at 1:08 pm

Why would someone do something behind the back of the so-called grandson's parents? Never understood that part of the scam.

Wouldn't a normal person immediately call their son and/or daughter/in-law?

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Posted by SufficientParanoia
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Aug 20, 2014 at 1:30 pm

I know an East Bay grandad who got taken in by this scam, lost two thousand dollars.

It seems that people with a long lifetime of trusting relationships are the most vulnerable.

Those of us raised on a distrust of what we see on the internet may be less so as we age.

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Posted by fwiw
a resident of Woodside: other
on Aug 20, 2014 at 1:33 pm

It disappoints me that it appears that every law enforcement agency wants to pass the buck on putting a crimp in this kind of fraud.

If I ever receive a call such as this, I'd love to claim that I will send the money then appear incompetent in getting the transmittal numbers correct for them. Make them call back like 10 times trying to get you to get it done and yet for some reason the account never works.... "I had it all written down. Is that a 1 or an i?"

That said, this is one of the risks of disclosing your entire life to random strangers via social media. Something to think about.

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Posted by Margaret
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Aug 20, 2014 at 2:10 pm

I hope I would be able to spot a scam, but in the panic, it might be easy to fall for it. What really concerns me that this grandma got the run around from the police and the FTC before being referred to the CA Attorney General --if indeed that was the correct referral. The police should be able to take on the responsibility of following up PROMPTLY on this type of scam/theft. Ideally, they should have an immediate resource for tracking this type of call.

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Posted by what happened
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Aug 20, 2014 at 9:09 pm

Not a happy ending until the perp gets jail time. What happened after she called the attorney general? Why wasn't the local police interested in investigating a fraud against a citizen? One reason these crimes continue is inaction on the part of law enforcement.

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Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Aug 21, 2014 at 6:43 am

Menlo Voter is a registered user.

There's inaction of the part of law enforcement because it is virtually impossible to track these scammers down. There is no way, after the fact, to know where the call came from. It may not have even come from a land line. There is simply no way for law enforcement to stop this and there is nothing they can do after it has occurred. We must all be vigilant and THINK when and if we receive a call like this. Congratulations to this potential victim for keeping her wits and not falling prey.

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Posted by Ethan
a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Aug 21, 2014 at 12:30 pm

Keep a referee's whistle near the phone. When it comes to cons like this, it's not enough to refuse. You should also abuse.

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Posted by Visitor
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Aug 21, 2014 at 12:53 pm

A NYT article recently reported that scammers can buy annotated lists of suckers online, complete with personal details such as names of relatives, medical conditions predisposing to being scammed, etc. I know these scams are very difficult to break, but until there is a nationwide effort to crack down, vulnerable people will continue to be victimized.

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Posted by follow the money
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Aug 21, 2014 at 1:38 pm

@Menlo Voter - of course the police can track these perps down if they want to. The perps ask the victim to send them money. So send the money, with tracers. Bust the perp who picks it up. If they are part of a larger organization, follow the money up the food chain. This may require some cross-border police work, but police need to enter the 21st century and not be so territorial. If these crimes are important enough to report in the newspaper, then they are important enough to criminally investigate.

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Posted by Incredulous
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Aug 21, 2014 at 1:45 pm

No way to track down these scam phone calls??? Are you kidding, or have you been living under a rock since 9/11??? Without a court order or any form of due process or disclosure, law enforcement officials can access private phone records, track calls, record them, and hold this information for years. It is entirely possible for a state or federal agency to trace telephone fraud if they gave a hoot.

Catching these criminals just isn't a priority, and regardless of how intelligent or worldly they are Seniors should be reminded to beware of phone solicitors of all kinds. Unless a loved one has been arrested in a third-world country notorious for corrupt police, any request to send untraceable money orders is a scam. Don't count on the law of the land to protect you.

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Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Aug 21, 2014 at 1:59 pm

Menlo Voter is a registered user.


yes they can track calls and record them, while they are in progress. The call is done when folks figure out they've been scammed. If the call comes from a "burner" cell phone it will be impossible to track it to a person much less an address.

follow the money:

the problem with your scenario is two fold. One, the demand is usually made for the victim to send prepaid debit cards, pretty much untraceable, but even if they can be it brings us to the second problem; if one is to put a "tracer" on them one would need to know at the time they sent the money that they were being scammed. They don't figure it out until the money is gone.

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Posted by fwiw
a resident of Woodside: other
on Aug 21, 2014 at 7:54 pm

Yes, even though catching these guys for real is going to probably require that somebody figure it out in the midst, no progress is going to be made until some law enforcement steps up and proactively takes ownership. That means tracking where calls are being made and identifying likely groups as well as getting the word out to "play along" and contact them.

As long as law enforcement insists on throwing up their hands, this scam will continue to have success in preying on the vulnerable. Not acceptable.

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