Grandparents in Silver Spring, Maryland, say they were targets of a scheme meant to swindle cash out of unsuspecting seniors. But they didn’t lose money. Instead, they turned the tables on the scammer to try to catch him in the act.
Alex and Lori’s story begins as other “grandparent scam” stories do: with a panic-inducing phone call. The caller told Alex his grandson was in jail after an accident that seriously injured a woman. He needed to be bailed out of jail to the tune of $15,000, the caller said.
Alex really thought, at first, that his grandson was in trouble. The caller gave him the phone number of someone who he said was a lawyer.
The “lawyer” told Alex his grandson was in big trouble because the woman he hit was the wife of a politician, and that there was a gag order on the case, meaning Alex shouldn’t tell anyone.
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Alex secretly withdrew the $15,000 from the bank. The scammer asked for Alex’s address and said he would send over a courier to pick up the cash.
That’s when Alex decided, “gag order” or not, to tell his wife.
“He said, ‘Can you keep a secret?’” Lori recalled. “I said, ‘I’m really good at keeping a secret.’ So he told me what it was, and I said, ‘Alex, this is a scam!’”
Lori called her grandson to make sure he was OK. Of course, he was. Then Lori and Alex called the police.
“I said, ’There’s a guy coming here to collect money for a scam, and I’d like you to send police over,’” Lori recalled. “And [the dispatcher] said, ‘Well, no crime has been committed yet.’ But I said, ‘A crime is about to be committed.’ And she said, ‘When a crime is committed, then we can respond, but we can’t ahead of time.’”
So Lori grabbed her camera, and Alex prepared for a courier to pick up an envelope.
The parcel was supposed to be $15,000, but Alex wasn’t going to let the cash out of his sight. Instead, he scammed the scammer and stuffed an envelope with something else.
“I put a piece of wood in and two lugs from a car, so it weighed about the same and was about the size of the money,” Alex said.
He handed the courier the envelope as Lori took photo after photo of the man.
“I said, ‘I’d like you to take your mask off,’” Lori said. “And he said, ‘I’m not doing that.’ And he slammed the door and he was gone. And I wanted to jump in my car and follow him."
She didn’t follow him, and police said they don’t ever recommend that victims take matters into their own hands.
Montgomery County police are looking for a person of interest who was in a car registered to a rental company. It had a Maine license plate. A detective said the courier could be someone legitimate who was hired by a scammer.
“We know that in some cases the individual who comes to the house is actually a real person, a real courier working for a company, and they get hired to be sent to do a specific job such as pick up a parcel,” said Det. Brandon Mengedoht, of the financial crimes division.
Police said they’re looking into why the dispatcher initially did not send police to Alex and Lori’s home.
Lori said she was frustrated that police didn’t come right away.
“I couldn’t believe it, because they could be here and catch the guy and stop him from doing this to anyone else,” she said.
Unfortunately, Montgomery County police have heard from victims who describe the same car, same description of the courier and a similar story. Those victims fell for the scam and lost thousands of dollars.
“You have to stop these things, otherwise there’s not going to be any recourse," Alex said.
Anyone who recognizes the person of interest is asked to contact police.