LITTLE CURRENT – Telephone scammers, particularly the practitioners of the Grandparent Scam, play on the very best of our human emotions to perpetrate some of the very worst of soulless victimization. Island artist Ivan Wheale recently found himself a victim of one such sophisticated scheme, handing over $5,000 to a group of scam artists who had obviously done a fair bit of homework before making their approach. Mr. Wheale contacted The Expositor with a request to tell his story in the hopes of saving someone else from falling victim.
Mr. Wheale’s phone rang around 4:30 pm Friday. What he heard over the phone was devastating. “It was really upsetting, so real,” said Mr. Wheale. The voice on the other end of the line “sounded an awful lot like my son. It was unbelievable.”
“The connection was just terrible,” he said. In fact, the voice on the other end of the line, although sounding somewhat like his son, was somewhat garbled, as though the speaker was having difficulty communicating. “I said, ‘Geoffrey?’,” said Mr. Wheale, explaining that he has two sons. “The voice on the phone said ‘yeah, yeah, dad, I’ve been in an accident’.”
“Another voice then came on the line and explained that my son had been in an automobile accident and that his nose had been broken and his face pretty smashed up,” recalled Mr. Wheale. “The new voice said he was a lawyer and that my son, who doesn’t drink, had been charged in the accident with being impaired. The supposed ‘lawyer’ said that my son had been at a friend’s house and had been talked into having a glass of wine. The ‘lawyer’ said following the accident, Geoffrey had blown one point over the limit.”
The bogus lawyer was very convincing, noted Mr. Wheale. The man’s voice conveyed a calm and professional confidence. He went on to explain that Mr. Wheale’s son had been in a two-car collision, that the driver was a little shaken up and a passenger, the driver’s 12-year-old daughter had a broken femur, but was otherwise alright. His son, however, was in hospital under police escort.
As Mr. Wheale’s son was charged in the matter, he would be held over the weekend unless bail could be arranged. The lawyer explained that it being such a small amount his son had blown over, and that the lawyer had a lot of experience in this sort of thing, he was confident that he could plea the charge down to a fine or suspended sentence.
“I could hear what I thought was my son making all these noises in the background,” he said.
Everything was carefully orchestrated to build maximum emotional impact.
“I was so upset,” recalled Mr. Wheale. His stomach was roiling and he found himself shaking with emotion.
It was to get far worse.
“I set the phone down and was getting my coat on to go to the bank, within five minutes the phone rang again,” he said. “The lawyer explained that he had gotten a hold of the bail bondsman and it would cost $5,000 to get my son out of jail, otherwise he would be in for the weekend.”
Mr. Wheale drove straight to his bank. “I had to get down there as quick as I could,” he said. “I had to get all the information down on how to send the money. The amount, the transfer number. I was in a panic having all this stuff thrown at me.”
Mr. Wheale and his son are very close, he explained. “My first reaction was to get to the bank and then see if I could get a plane to Vancouver where my son and his wife and children live.”
Mr. Wheale was advised by the man claiming to be a lawyer that this was a delicate situation and to not to call anyone, even his son’s wife, until things had been settled.
“As soon as I got back from the bank and the money had been sent, I was to call the lawyer back and let him know,” said Mr. Wheale. “The lawyer sounded terrific, like he knew what he was doing.”
But the emotional roller coaster was about to get a lot rougher.
“He said that he had some bad news, that the little girl, although she had not seemed too badly injured, had developed a blood clot and died,” said Mr. Wheale. His son was now going to be charged with vehicular manslaughter.
When Mr. Wheale said that he wasn’t sure he could make it to the bank in time, the supposed lawyer said that he knew that the banks were open in Ontario until 6 pm. There was just time to make it there and back.
His son then came on the line and said that his world was coming to an end. “That’s about all he said,” recalled Mr. Wheale.
Although the man claiming to be a lawyer had strongly advised Mr. Wheale to not call anyone about the situation, Mr. Wheale was at his wits end. He wound up calling a close friend in Sudbury to ask his advice on whether he should go to Vancouver or not.
“He could tell that something was wrong by the sound of my voice,” said Mr. Wheale.
After explaining the situation, Mr. Wheale’s friend said he believed that the artist was being victimized. “It sounds like a scam,” he said. “He told Mr. Wheale to call his son’s wife.
“I called the house and Geoffrey answered,” said Mr. Wheale. “I said ‘you sound much better than you did a few minutes ago.’ He said ‘what are you talking about? You just called me’.”
“I said, ‘haven’t you been in an accident?’ He said, ‘I just got in from work’.”
In that moment Mr. Wheale realized he had been had.
“I put the phone down and called the OPP,” he said. “A cop came down about a quarter after 11. What he said to me was that this sounded a lot like a story he had heard from someone else just a month ago—it’s got to be a scam’.”
Falling for a scam artist’s play is very embarrassing for anyone and many people, once they realize that they have been had, try to keep it under wraps. While Mr. Wheale said that he realizes that there is no chance of recovering his money, he hopes that some good may come out of the experience. “The best that I can hope for is that by telling my story I can help keep someone else from falling into the same trap,” he said.
As to the scam artists? They called back the next day hoping for another draw at the well. “I told them where to go,” he said. “All I heard then was a click.”
OPP Community Services Officer Marie Ford spoke to The Expositor on Monday, coincidently just having left a presentation by the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre to a group of 80 seniors in Providence Bay. A number of the people at the meeting shared that they had received the same type of call recently.
“We call it the Emergency Scam or the Grandparent Scam,” she said. “These calls prey on our kindness, our goodness of heart.”
The call Mr. Wheale received was practically textbook.
“They play on your emotions, you just want to help your grandchild or child,” she said. “They keep you off balance emotionally and usually throw in a kind of intimidation.” Constable Ford gave the example of one recent victim who was told to come up with the money and to not tell anyone or their grandchild would be hurt.
The call Mr. Wheale received on the following morning was also textbook. “One individual received three calls, each time demanding money,” she said. “They even had her deliver the money over to Sudbury.”
Constable Ford suggested that one strategy to protect yourself from these scams is to set up a code word with your grandchildren or children so you know if it is actually them. “One lady uses the word Oscar. She asks if this is Oscar and when they answer yes, she knows that it is a scam call,” said Constable Ford. That grandparent does not have a grandchild named Oscar.
With the advent of social media sites like Facebook, scam artists can garner a great deal of information about you and your family that they can use to trick you into believing they are legit.