A scam comes in many forms, but this one was over the top.
When Mammoth resident Irene Molloy realized Monday that the man who coerced her to send him $10,000 had been calling her “Grandma” instead of “Nana,” she realized she’d been had.
“I was sitting in a chair afterward, trying to regain my thinking, and I remembered,” she said. “He was the only grandchild I had that called me ‘Nana’ not ‘Grandma.’”
But it was too late. The money, wired to Lima, Peru, where a man claiming to be John Molloy had told her he would go to jail if she didn’t send the money, was gone.
“I kissed that money goodbye right then,” she said ruefully.
“I feel like such an idiot,” she said, “but he sounded exactly like John. He knew John’s friends, he knew the names of our family … he knew a lot.”
Even after the man called a third time early Tuesday morning to ask her for yet more money – by then she had uncovered the scam and reported it to Mammoth police – she said she could have sworn from just the man’s voice that it was her grandson.
“It still sounded just like him,” Molloy said. “He said, ‘Grandma, I’m OK but I’ve missed the plane home.’ Then he said he needed more money. But when I asked him for his phone number, he hung up on me and he hasn’t called me back since then.”
Molloy has a landline phone with no caller ID. There was no way for her to identify where the caller was calling from or she would have given the police that information, she said.
“I think they target older people who live alone,” she said. “If I had been living with someone, I think I would have talked it out, and figured it out sooner.”
The man’s story was compelling and believable, she said. He asked her first for money to cover a car insurance check that he had sent to Peru but that was not there yet. He told her then he was in Lima for a wedding of a fraternity brother, and he named friends that she recognized.
The caller also told her not to tell his parents he was in Peru because he didn’t want them to worry about him. Then, when she bit that one, he called again several hours later and said he’d been in a car accident and destroyed a city street light pole. If he didn’t pay for the street pole, he was going to jail, he told Molloy.
“And I’d had friends in foreign countries ending up in jail for reasons like he gave me, so I knew it was possible,” she said.
She said she’s been targeted by other people trying to get money from her, but never by someone who sounds just like someone she knew, or, someone who knew as much about her and her family as this caller did.
“I think they must have gotten the information from all those social networking sites,” she said. “People put everything about themselves up on those sites. And I know now that you can alter people’s voices electronically to make them sound different. He could have gotten all of the information about John’s friends that way. I even asked him Monday who he was there with, and he told me a name I recognized. In retrospect, I can see what happened. But when you get a call like that, when you think your grandson is in trouble and could go to jail in a foreign country, you aren’t emotionally stable.
“Even the way they handled it, putting me on the line for the wire transfer with someone with no accent, seemed plausible,” she said. “I think it’s being done by Americans.
“I thought about not telling anyone about this because I am embarrassed, but then I decided I want other people to know about this,” Molloy said. “I’ve always prided myself on being aware and intelligent, but I wasn’t expecting something like this.”
Mammoth Lake Police Chief Dan Watson has seen it all, after decades in law enforcement. But this type of scam was something new, even to him.
“The elderly (in particular) are sometimes victims of embezzlement scams,” Watson said. “But I’ve never heard of one like this, where the suspect had knowledge about the victim’s grandson. This case was different because it involved two phone calls. The victim asked a series of questions and got responses that caused her to believe it was her grandson.
“That indicates this was a more sophisticated scam than the emails people get from someone in an African nation asking for your assistance in disbursing funds, or an Instant Message from a friend who claims their wallet was stolen while on vacation.
“Taking advantage of someone like this grandmother is despicable,” he said. “If someone gets a request that doesn’t seem right, as was the case here, they should go with their instincts and try to verify the information being provided. The Internet has now become a common way of approaching potential victims.”
As for Molloy, now out some $10,000 that she could ill afford to lose, she’s counting her blessings. After talking about it to friends and family, she realized a similar scam is going around other areas, which is why she decided to talk about it in public. Now, it’s time to move on.
“It’s a blow, but like my daughter and I were saying, it’s still only money,” she said. “Everyone in my family is alright, their health is good. That’s more important than anything else.”