This was the third time I got a scam call with the "grandson in jail" script. I bungled the first two, but I finally took one scammer to the limit.
There must be a thousand possible scripts to explain the grandson in jail, but it is always the same. The call starts with a muffled voice on the phone. "Grandpa?" It's pretty easy to find out online that I am 77 years old, so chances are good that I am a grandfather. Since I am not a grandfather to anyone whose voice this might be, it is clear right away that it is a scam.
I play along by supplying a name. "Edward?"
The caller agrees to be Edward. He explains that his voice sounded strange because he has been in a car accident, and his nose is broken. The news gets worse. He is in the San Francisco jail, because he was on his phone and had alcohol in his system when he hit the car with a pregnant woman in it. He describes his accident in exhaustive detail.
Edward gives me the number of his public defender, with instructions to call him to arrange bail. He says I can't call him back, because they took his phone and he is calling from the jail. I tell him I will get right on it.
On the two previous versions of this call, I had bungled my response and given away the fact that I was onto the scam. Practice makes perfect though.
According to my caller I.D., the setup call from "Edward," supposedly incarcerated in the San Francisco County Jail, came to my land line from Lancaster, PA. I had helped Edward advance his part of the scam by giving him a name. He was in jail, broken nose, car crash, the same exact script as twice before. I agreed to call his public defender, Mr. Stevens, whose area code suggested that he was in Florida.
Edward was desperate to keep anyone else from finding out about this, so please don't tell his parents. Let's keep it between us, because I was the only family member Edward trusted with this matter. No problem, and the call ended.
At this point I felt that I should obscure my identity. I called Public Defender Stevens using a burner phone that nobody could possibly connect to me.
This time I didn't give away the store. Mr. Stevens asked which case I was calling him about, so I gave Edward a last name, Robertson. It only took Mr. Stevens a few seconds to find the case. He even gave me the case number. I told him I needed a second to grab a notebook.
Mr. Stevens was familiar with Edward. He liked Eddie and didn't think he was getting a fair shake. He saw that Eddie had a clean record and had never been in trouble before. No matter what they tell you about the overworked public defender, I knew my grandson was in good legal hands.
The case number was #21890A23. The arresting officer was Sergeant Collins. I asked for Sgt. Collins' badge number, but Mr. Stevens told me that because of reasons and some other reasons, he was not at liberty to give me that information.
He also gave me the name of the injured pregnant woman. He helped me with the spelling. Danielle ("Like Daniel with an extra L E.") Black, who was driving a Subaru Forester. Fortunately she had not been seriously injured. I shared his relief. That kept the bail from being any more than it was.
Oh yes, the bail. It was set at $22,000.
Was there any way... I thought about it, and I told him there might be.
I can't believe he thinks that I'm falling for his scam, and that he is actually falling for mine.
Mr. Stevens assures me that if Eddie makes his court appearance, the bail money will be refunded. As long as I trust my grandson, there is no risk involved. For reasons reasons it has to be paid in cash. It's the law.
He wonders if I have that kind of money in the bank. I tell him that it's not even that hard. My old Army buddy is a big time car dealer. He probably has that much in his safe for car purchases. He has known Eddie since he was a baby, and he's definitely good for it
I told him that I could probably deliver it to the courthouse in an hour or two.
Wait, he says. Deliver it the courthouse?
Of course. That's where they handle bail and jail and law stuff. I live in Sausalito, minutes away from San Francisco, so I could deliver the bail and send an Uber to the Jail to pick up Edward…
I was testing Mr. Stevens' knowledge of local geography, as well has his rationale for keeping me from going directly to the magistrate. Sausalito is at the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge, a ten minute drive from San Francisco.
Mr. Stevens insisted that the bail could not just be delivered to the courthouse. His reasons for this were a word salad, but since I was playing along, I let him convince me. The money had to be given in cash to a licensed bail bondsman. He would look up any such entities in my area, which seemed strange, since he claimed to be a public defender working in an office about five miles from where I told him I lived.
I never gave Mr. Stevens my "name," and that subject never came up. At some point he asked me for my address. I argued that he didn't need it, because he wasn't sending me any mail, but he insisted. I wasn't about to give him my real address. I don't live in Sausalito, but I am familiar with the place. I chose a street and a random number, XXX San Carlos. I know the Sausalito ZIP Code, so I tacked that onto the end. I spit out that lie as casually as if it was my real address, and he bought it.
"San Carlos what," he asked, "Street, Avenue, Road?" I wasn't sure, but I picked "avenue," and it turned out to be right. No doubt he was checking Google Maps. The street was real, and the random three digit number I had made up was an actual address on it. Even better, it was a very nice house in an expensive neighborhood. The Zillo profile made me look like a juicy target.
Banks know that senior citizens drawing out unexplained large amounts of cash are usually scam victims. Mr. Stevens read the part of his script where he instructed me on what to say to the bank teller if I am questioned about why I need so much cash. I am to say that it is for a home improvement project. I don't press him on why a bank teller would care about me bailing out my grandson.
I explain again that this money would not come from a bank, it came from my friend's safe. I told Mr. Stevens that I would have to go see my friend the car dealer and round up the cash. I went out and did errands for a couple of hours.
When I got home, my land line phone rang, displaying Mr. Stevens' Florida number. Since I had used my burner phone to call him, there was no obvious connection between the numbers. No doubt "Edward" told him which numbers he had called. My outgoing voicemail message repeats the number without a name. I believe he was fishing to see if he could identify who had called back.
A few minutes later the burner phone rang. Mr. Stevens asked angrily why I hadn't answered my phone. I didn't acknowledge the land line. I argued back that my (burner) phone had never left my pocket, and that he had not called me on it. He clearly was not confident enough that he knew my land line number to bust me for not picking it up.
He wanted to know if I had rounded up the cash. I told him I had, that my friend had indeed had that much cash on hand for our little Eddie. Mr. Stevens wanted to know, was it in an envelope, or what?
Sometimes you can give away a lie with too much detail. I took that chance. "It's in two big manila envelopes. I didn't realize how big this package would be. This is the most cash I have ever seen."
A con man of all people should know that if it's too good to be true, it isn't true.
I offered to send an Uber to pick up Edward from the jail. Mr. Stevens had reasons why this was impossible. The explanation was confused verbiage that sounded like an ad lib, but I let him take the lead. Apparently Eddie's car could still be driven, and the city charged for storage, so Eddie will have to take it off the impound lot as soon as he is released.
You have to play a scammer like a prize trout. You have to be skeptical, but you can't poke so many holes in the story that it collapses. Too much resistance breaks the line, and too little will let him off the hook.
Mr. Stevens asked whether I had a box that the two big manila envelopes would fit in. I told him that we didn't have a lot of packaging stuff around here. We recycle. Give me a few minutes. I finally "found" a box that a recent Amazon shipment had arrived in, but it was a lot bigger than what I needed for the two envelopes. I told him that I would have to crumple up some newspapers to keep them from rattling around.
Mr. Stevens was interested in what kind of tape I had. I assured him that we had some of that good stuff that they sell at the Post Office. It's a pain in the ass when you can't find the end of the tape. It took a minute to get the damn tape dispenser working. Following his instructions, I mentally packed and taped up the imaginary box while I described the process to him. I crumpled up a few newspapers for sound effects. Now what?
I was to write my name and address on the box, along with Edward's name and the case number, 21890A23.
Part of a confidence scheme like this is obscuring the money trail. The con artist only has a few minutes after the transaction to effect a getaway before the con is exposed. I was eager to find out about this phase.
Mr. Stevens assured me that the licensed bondsman had found a driver to come and pick up the package. I was to stand outside my house and wait. The driver was only a few minutes away and would be in a black SUV.
I told him that I wasn't going to give a box full of money to some driver without a cash receipt and a lot of assurance that Eddie walked.
I had sold Mr. Stevens the dream. The payoff was so close he could taste it. He could visualize the box. He knew it was real because he had listened while I packed it. The driver was approaching XXX San Carlos Avenue to pick it up. Mr. Stevens would say anything that would get me to give up that box. Anything.
Mr. Stevens assured me that he would remain on the phone with me. As soon as the driver had accepted the package, he would notify the jail to let Eddie out. This was a major plot hole in the script full of them, since neither Mr. Stevens, the licensed bondsman who sent the driver, nor the court had any way of knowing what was in the sealed package at the time the driver was accepting it. The driver was unlikely to write a receipt for $22K without seeing $22K.
It would not be fair to the residents of XXX San Carlos for a driver to show up asking about a box. It was time for the reveal.
"Mr. Stevens, let me update you on a couple of things. I don't have a grandson named Eddie, and I don't live in Sausalito. Is there anyone in the world stupid enough to fall for this scam?"
Busted after spending three hours on me, and a $22K payoff three imaginary minutes away, Mr. Stevens showered me with profanity, which for some reason felt like bathing in rose petals. I have no sympathy. He was trying to steal money from a confused old man who loves his grandson.
Mr. Stevens had seemed sensitive about the subject of Uber when I suggested sending a ride share driver to pick up Edward. In retrospect, I'm sure the driver that I didn't wait for would have been an Uber driver instructed to pick up a box from a person standing outside XXX San Carlos, and deliver it to a person standing outside another address, where he or she certainly did not live.
If you get this call, remember, your "grandson" is named Edward, but everyone calls him Eddie.