Scam artists targeting elderly residents
When Russellville resident Allie Thompson answered her phone a little after noon last Wednesday, she heard her distraught grandson on the other end of the line telling her he was in jail and he needed her to get him out.
Like any grandmother would, Thompson immediately began to panic wondering if her grandson was ok, how he got in jail, if he’d been hurt, and what she could do to help him.
But the more he talked, the more Thompson realized that this didn’t sound like her grandson, Matthew.
“I said, ‘Matthew, this doesn’t sound like you,’” Thompson said.
“But he told me he had the flu and he’d had it for three days.”
She said he then explained he had been at a party with his friends the night before and had three or four glasses of wine and when he was driving home, he rear-ended someone.
“He said the person he hit was in the hospital and they had taken him to jail and he needed $1,995,” Thompson said.
“Then he told me he had a good lawyer who was going to get the charges thrown out and the lawyer would call me in 15 minutes. But he told me not to call his parents because he was scared of what they would say and not to tell anyone else about it either.”
Even though he asked her not to tell anyone, as soon as she hung up the phone with who she believed to be her grandson, Thompson called her daughter, Kim Perdue.
“My mom was so upset when I got to her house that she couldn’t even tell me what happened,” Perdue said. “I was afraid something had happened to my dad. I didn’t know what could have made her this upset.”
Perdue said her mom was finally able to tell her that Matthew was in jail and he needed money. She told her about the lawyer who was supposed to call so they waited for the phone to ring again.
“When the lawyer called back, he started giving me all the specifics of the accident,” Perdue said. “I thought that it couldn’t possibly be true until he started naming things like the exact time the accident occurred and what road my nephew had been driving on at the time.”
But then the lawyer started giving conflicting facts about the accident, and eventually Perdue and her husband, Buddy Perdue, became suspicious.
“I told him I wanted to see Matthew and I would give him the money in person. He stalled but when I kept saying I wanted to come see Matthew wherever he was, he finally hung up the phone.”
At that point, Perdue said she realized it was all a scam.
“Looking back on it, I can see all kinds of red flags that should have warned me that something wasn’t quite right,” Thompson said. “But when you’re so panicked like that, I guess you don’t really pay attention to the red flags.”
Franklin County District Attorney Joey Rushing said many people feel embarrassed after they fall prey to a scam or a hoax, but he said it’s more common than most people think.
“The kind of scam these ladies were involved in is the hardest kind of scam to expose because the people use a very emotional situation and prey on a person’s feelings,” Rushing said.
“When you hear that a relative or loved one has been injured or is in trouble, all you are thinking about is how to help. You don’t think it could be a scam.”
But Rushing said Thompson did the right think by calling another family member to help her verify the information.
“Most scammers will tell you not to tell anyone else about the phone call, but she did the best thing she could have possibly done by ignoring that information and calling her daughter,” Rushing said.
“Anytime there is any kind of condition involved, it usually means something isn’t quite right.”
Rushing said residents should be aware that scams like this take place in the area fairly often, so it’s best to be prepared if you are targeted.
“If you get a phone call and there is any kind of strange situation involved, try to contact a family member, even if you’re told not to, to see if the information is correct,” Rushing said.
“And if they insist on having cash wired to them or if they ask for credit card numbers or bank account numbers, don’t give it to them.
“When it comes to scams, there are no real rules to protect against it because every scam is different. The best advice is just to check out any situation the best you can.
“Tell the person who is calling that you’ll call them back at the jail or hospital they claim to be calling from, and if they’re really there, that shouldn’t be a problem. But if they panic and tell you not to do that, it’s probably not the person they’re claiming to be.”
Rushing said the Federal Trade Commission offers free information on how to protect against scams for anyone who is looking to better educate themselves on the subject.
The information can be found at www.fct.gov/bcp or by calling 1-800-535-3232.