He was surprised when he picked up the phone.
“I got a phone call in the morning, and the voice sounded a little like my grandson. ‘Hi, Grandpa,’ he says. ‘You’ve got to help me ... I was arrested ... I’m in jail in Jersey.”
He knew his grandson, from Bellerose, “is a good kid.” He knew the boy attended school in the Bronx.
And Grandpa is a retired cop.
If he hadn’t known what to do and questions to ask, he could have lost $1,500 over the phone to a scam that had participants in at least four states.
Seemingly every NYPD precinct commander in Queens reports stories of similar calls at any meeting of his or her precinct council or community board.
“When you get these calls, hang up,” Capt. Louron Hall, CO of the 104th Precinct, told residents at a meeting on Sept. 23.
The grandfather, who asked that his name not be used, said the phone call and subsequent ones played out like a typical attempted scam of senior citizens.
“So I asked ‘Are you OK?’”
The voice on the phone said he had been in New Jersey to attend the funeral of a friend’s mother. He said he was arrested for reckless driving and got a broken nose and stitches in his mouth in a car accident.
“A broken nose and stitches in the mouth, that would explain why he didn’t sound 100 percent like himself,” the grandfather said. But the reckless driving arrest still needed further explanation.
“I asked, ‘They arrested you for that? That’s usually a ticket.’ He said, ‘There were a lot of witnesses who said I had been driving recklessly before the crash.’” On top of that, the grandson said, the woman in the other car was pregnant and suffered a miscarriage.
Old habits die hard. The police officer’s instincts already had kicked in.
“It seemed a little too strange ... I told him, ‘Let me talk to a cop.’”
The “officer” said he could not discuss the facts, but could give him the phone number of an attorney who was handling the defense.
The grandfather, who grew up in Ozone Park and lived in South Queens until retirement, played along.
“The lawyer said yes, he was in jail. ‘But the bail is low. It’s just $1,500 bail. The faster we get the money, the faster he gets released.’ I asked how do I get the money to you? He said, well, if you go to Rite-Aid they have these money cards ...’ I asked if they’ll sell me a $1,500 money card and he said I would have to buy three $500 cards.”
From there, the scammers ask their victims to read the numbers on the back of the cards, which they can use to claim the money. It is only later that the victims find out it was not their grandchild, and that they — and their money — have been taken.
“After we hung up I called my grandson,” he said. “I said ‘Where are you?’ He said ‘I’m in school.’ I told him the story and he laughed about it. I called his mother and told her what happened. She said her mother-in-law got caught in a scam similar to that. Today I called my local paper. I decided it might be good if newspapers printed every once in a while that these things are happening, for people to be aware. I thought people should be reminded about this. The editor told me his father got caught twice in a scam like that.”
“Before you send them anything, verify,” he said. “Verify it with the person who is supposedly the victim. My worry is that this is happening to a lot of elderly people. I hate to see people getting scammed. That was the one thing that really ticked me off as a cop, whether it was a pickpocket or somebody putting a gun to someone’s head and taking their money. That always bothered me.”
He called the attorney general’s offices in New York, New Jersey and two other states.
“They all pretty much told me ‘Oh, well — it happens.’”