June 3, 2013 by  
Filed under Blogs, Hot Button / Lynn Ashby


“Hi. Grandma. It’s me, (unintelligible). I know I don’t sound normal. I’m sick and in jail. The jail doctor says if I don’t get out quick and get to a real hospital soon …cough, cough. I need two thousand five hundred dollars to cover all my costs. Could you wire me….?” So a couple, good friends of mine, did just that. You might be surprised to learn that there was no sick grandchild, no jail, no doctor and, shortly thereafter, no sign of the money. This sad story raises questions. First, how could anyone be so dumb? Or naive, clueless? These two victims are well educated, made good livings until they retired, and are still active — they don’t drool oatmeal on their bibs in the nursing home. They sent the money because they were concerned grandparents who wanted to help. But how did the caller know they were grandparents with trouble-prone grandchildren who well might have made such a call? Beats me. How did the alleged perpetrators pick up the cash? There were probably more than one person and they figured out the pickup long before the call. Many people would spot such a scam and hang up, so why do the scammers keep doing it? Obviously, because it works enough times to make it worth their while. There are other less complicated calls. It is well known that each year before the holidays we get appeals from the “Texas State Troopers Association” or the “State Troopers Alliance” seeking donations. Don’t. We still have the You Are a Winner! calls. To secure your five-day vacation cruise, just etc. etc. The I’m-sick-and-jailed phone call ploy is a twist on an e-mail sting that was making the rounds two years ago: “Hi, I need your help. I made a stealth trip for a short vacation in London, UK. Unfortunately for me, I got mugged at GUN POINT in the park of the hotel where I stayed, all cash, credit card and cell were stolen off me but luckily I still have my passports.” The urgent e-mail says the writer’s flight leaves in a few hours, “but am having problems settling the hotel bills. The hotel manager won’t let me leave until I settle the bills. I really need your urgent assistance. Ed.” Everyone knows someone named Ed. The advent of e-mails unleashed a torrent of ways to con. I believe the first major one was the infamous Nigerian prince. Probably every American who ever went on-line received that message. We can only wonder, on the receiving end, how much money was eventually raised. Over the years I have been sent e-mails from exiled generals, lawyers for lottery winners and on-the-run businessmen, all in need of my help. (I have been especially selected.) Often they have $40 million in a London bank and can’t get to it, so I can be the bag man to avoid taxes, and get some of the swag for my efforts. Well, today we know better than to fall for such a ploy. Then yesterday, honest, I received this: “communication, i am james ivory from united kingdom a lawyer i have a good business transaction for you get back with your contact details for more information” (no period) Several times I have received an e-mail from Comcast, which I pay dearly for, saying that my account has been hacked and I need to re-supply Comcast with my passwords, codes and time of the day I shall be away from the house. I got roughly the same message from Bank of America, which also wanted my ATM code, checking account number and location of the key to my safety deposit box (please give number of said box). I almost sent the needed information until I realized I don’t have an account with Bank of America. Beside the phone call from a sick prisoner plying on our sympathy or the gullibility of giving out secret information, there is a major basis for scams: Play to victims’ own greed. They think they are the sly fellows, the insiders, and are pulling a quick one on the bank or government or big corporation. In order to avoid paying taxes on that $40 million, or to make off with the inheritance before the evil twin finds out, all I need to do is wire $10,000 to show my sincerity. Remember in “The Sting” Doyle Lonnegan played by Robert Shaw thought HE was Cool Hand Loot. This brings us to one of my favorite scams, the Cases of the Errant E-Mail. Out of nowhere I get this one: “Hey, Mac, as you know, I’ve been dating this gal who’s a veep at Big Bux Bullion, and she told me they’ve just landed a $3 BILLION contract with Homeland Security and the stock is going to go through the roof. Keep this to yourself, but buy Big Bux now! All you can get. See you at the bachelor party for Jon Frank. Later, Bob Bruce.” By shear luck, I have stumbled onto a Wall Street insider’s bonanza, and shall make a fortune at the expense of the other suckers. No, I am not blinded by greed, just salivating over my cleverness. A few year ago when Wall Street was going south, I talked to an Austin couple about the market and bemoaned my losses. “Oh, we got out a while back,” they said, somewhat smugly. They put everything into a friend’s investment firm. Long story, short ending: They lost everything. He’s in jail. That’s not exactly a scam. More of a white-collar con. One humbling part of all these calls is: where did they get my name and why do they think I am so stupid as to fall for their transparently simple schemes? Is there an Idiot’s List — in addition to the Texas Legislature roll call? As for the aforementioned couple who sent that $2,500 to somebody somewhere, the wife had a clue at the very beginning. “They never call me Grandma.” Ashby scams at

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