Scam call scares grandmom

Published 11:00 pm Monday, May 7, 2012

Sarah Lee Dunbar of Troy received a disturbing phone call Friday from her “granddaughter” who was working with the Red Cross in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

The car in which Dunbar’s granddaughter was riding had been stopped for speeding and searched. She, along with several friends, were arrested for transporting an illegal substance – marijuana.

“She said that, although she did not have marijuana in her possession or test positive for its use, she was arrested for transporting it,” Dunbar said. “She said that she needed $2,000 to pay the court costs.

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“The voice on the phone didn’t sound like my granddaughter’s, but she said that she had been sick with bronchitis. She asked me to talk with the gentleman, Aaron Pierce, who was representing her in the court proceedings in Port-au-Prince.”

Pierce told Dunbar that, in order to move the case forward and obtain her granddaughter’s release so she could return home, Dunbar would have to send $2,000 by  MoneyGram to Walmart in Port-au-Prince by noon, which was in about an hour.

What made the story somewhat believable was that Dunbar’s granddaughter, who is a student at Northwestern University in Chicago, travels widely.

“She has been on two trips to Africa to study AIDS and a trip to Germany to study history, so it was possible that she could be in Haiti,” Dunbar said.

“I was almost in tears. I knew it would take me more than an hour to get the money and have it sent to my granddaughter. The man said that would be alright and gave me a number to call as soon as I was ready to send the money.”

But as soon as Dunbar hung up the phone, she called her son, who is in the U.S. Air Force. He told her that he had talked to his daughter the night before and assured her that her granddaughter was at college and was fine.

He said that the call was a scam where people are getting information about military families and asking grandparents for help on the pretense of keeping the worry from the parents.

Dunbar was relieved to know that her granddaughter was safe and excited to receive a phone call from her later in the day.

“It was such a blessing to hear her voice,” she said.

Dunbar said there is the possibility that other grandparents in the area could be targeted by these type scam artists.

“I just think it’s a good idea for people to be aware that this going on,” she said. “It’s very frightening to get a phone call like that.”

Dunbar alerted the Troy Police Department about the incident.

Sgt. Benny Scarbrough, public information officer for Troy’s police department, said Dunbar took the steps necessary to find out about the situation before reacting.

“She did exactly the right thing. In all likelihood, this is another incident in a long line of telephone and Internet scams that occur daily,” Scarbrough said. “It’s not uncommon for military dependants to be targets of scams. And, people tend to react more quickly when a family member is in need. Everyone needs to be more aware of these scams when people call asking for money.”