It all happened on Tuesday, July 29 — a typical summer day in Sequim, a foggy morning. Then, sunny by 11 a.m. or noon, the phone rang.
It was a call from our first grandchild, George, a recent West Point graduate — Class of 2014. He is serving with the U.S. Army at Fort Benning, Ga. It sounded reasonably like our grandchild, whom we have had frequent contact with since his birth. We always get excited when he calls.
He said that he was in Malibu, Calif., and was there with his roommate to attend the wedding of the fellow’s mother. After the ceremony/party (who knows in California, maybe it was just a party!), he was asked to drive the mother’s Mercedes as her son had too much booze.
Apparently, there were two other male passengers in the rear, strangers to George. According to the story, they left some drug stuff when they left the car. Anyway, George said that he got into an accident when a woman swerved in front of him, and in the process his nose was broken, etc. After the accident, a state trooper asked if he had been drinking and he said he only had one glass of champagne, though the analyzer showed him as DUI. And, he added, they were being held in the courthouse awaiting a hearing. He gave us his lawyer’s phone number and that they needed $9,800 pronto!
At this point, it was enough to get the grandparents’ adrenalin soaring!
We proceeded (without checking) to contact the smooth-talking lawyer who said all would be fine by tomorrow (Wednesday) and we should get the cash mailed to him immediately. Here is where we should have made a few phone calls to verify … but in panic mode, we proceeded to the bank and withdrew the $9,800 in $100 bills and proceeded home to get instructions from the lawyer.
He said to put the money in a magazine starting on page four with two or three bills per page, to insert the magazine into an envelope, to take that to the Post Office and send by Express Mail to McKenzie, Ala. (This is a tiny town of 600 people in farmland.)
This was all done by about 4 p.m. on Tuesday. We have yet to do any checking — not too smart on our part. We reported back to Mr. Lawyer that all was done!
I don’t remember when, but while we were waiting for the package to get to McKenzie (two-day delivery) a phone call came from George. We were happy to hear his voice and asked how he was and how was his broken nose. At this point, he figured that the grandparents were crazy! I said something about a car accident in Malibu and George said he was in Georgia at Fort Benning and had never heard of such a wedding, car accident, etc.
Finally, the lights came on! We had been duped.
George had the saving idea: look in Google and search for a way to intercept the package before it reached the house in McKenzie, Ala. We found how to do this and the USPS order was executed for a cost of $11.50.
I called the Post Office in McKenzie and asked about the intercept order. The call recipient was most polite and said she had it in front of her and not to worry. After this I tried in the evening to get the FBI, but got nowhere as the woman answering said the FBI didn’t handle things like this. I was rather angry, as I thought if they were going to arrest us for stealing a DVD worth $2.50 why not a scam worth $9,800 involving impersonating an officer of the U.S. Army?
The next day a message came in from a gentleman Postal Inspector in Alabama who wanted to talk about our package. So, things are now going someplace, thank God and all the Saints! We looked him up in Google and he appeared to be a real person and we decided to let him have all the information and stop worrying that he was part of the scam. He returned our call and said he would let us know. I can’t remember, but he called back and said he had the package. He wanted to know if we wanted it opened and converted into a money order to return to us or just send it back on Monday to Sequim, requiring a signature. He thought that would probably work well and we agreed. The package would have a tracking number.
While all this was going on, information arrived by e-mail that George’s paternal grandfather also had been scammed apparently in about the same manner. In that case, the grandfather wired the money and it was lost. “Haste makes waste,” as the saying goes.
The package finally gets processed in Tacoma’s USPS and forwarded to Sequim early Wednesday, Aug. 6. We open the package and start counting from one to 98 in $100 dollar bills. All present and accounted for. Time to smile and have dinner.
Any advice to other parents or grandparents? Do some serious checking before parting with your hard-earned money!
Sue and Jerry Stack are Sequim residents.