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Cold-caller targets Custer grandma in 'bail money' scam

CUSTER — A Custer grandma didn't fall for an age-old scam when a man called her this week claiming to be a grandson in need of "bail money." But the woman, 79, wants other locals to know about it, in case other seniors in the area are being targeted.

A man with a young voice and a slight, indiscernible accent called her earlier this week, in the afternoon, saying it was her "favorite grandson." He had bad news. He'd been doing some volunteer work — she didn't catch where, exactly — and the police had arrested him on phony charges. He needed cash to post bond, quick.

"Jason?" she said.

"Yes, Jason!" the man exclaimed.

She was more than a little skeptical, because Jason, a real grandson, died more than twenty years ago.

The woman went along with it for a little while, but not long enough for the man to say exactly how much money he needed. She said she had to switch phones so she could hear better. When she hung up, she thought that was the end of that.

Then, she got another call at 5:30 a.m. Wednesday, Nov. 20, which struck her as audacious. She played deaf again and hung up, without promising to wire any money.

The area code of the phone number, 829-550-3431, suggests the call came from the Dominican Republic.

Around here, it's a scam we get tips about several times each year. But not everyone's aware of it. 

For example, here's a nearly identical story, except with worse results, from a Herald article printed in August 2012.

BELLINGHAM - Police are warning people of a phone scam that hoodwinked a 79-year-old Bellingham woman out of $1,800. The woman got a call from someone who sounded like her granddaughter Wednesday afternoon, Aug. 1. Bellingham police spokesman Mark Young outlined the scam: The "granddaughter" - who turned out to be an impersonator - explained she'd been arrested in Port Angeles after an officer pulled her over for a DUI. The cops found drugs in the car and booked her into jail, the impersonator claimed.She needed $1,800 to post bond.

The impersonator passed off the phone to someone who claimed to be an officer (or a corrections deputy) named Nancy Bradshaw, based in Port Angeles. She said if the grandmother sent the money via international wire it would be cheaper.

So the grandmother went to Fred Meyer and sent the money to an account in Quito, Ecuador. She decided to call her granddaughter's direct line afterward.

She was safe and sound - in California where she lives. When the grandmother tried to call Bradshaw back at 514-566-1993, the line had been disconnected. That area code is based in Montreal.

She contacted police in Port Angeles, who said they had no officers by that name.

Police are investigating.

Young said people need to be cautious whenever they wire money. Before posting bond or forwarding money for anyone, Young said, people should confirm it's going to the right person.

The Washington State Office of the Attorney General posted this overview of "grandparent scams" back in 2008, with tips on how to weed out scammers.