“Grandma,” said a young man when my mother answered her phone last week, “I’m in trouble.”
He sounded like one of her grandsons.
“Jerrod?” she said.
“Yes, Grandma. We were fishing in Canada and didn’t know we were on an Indian reservation. Some mean-looking men said we broke the law. They’re taking us to a judge for sentencing. I need bail money or they won’t let me come home!”
“Oh, Jerrod, are you OK?” said my 70-something mother. She quickly realized it was a scam and began feigning her most feeble voice.
“No, Grandma. They assigned me a lawyer. Can I have him call you? I am so embarrassed. Please don’t tell anyone.”
“I won’t even tell Grandpa!” said my cagey mother.
A few moments later, “the lawyer” phoned.
“This is serious, ma’am,” said an authoritarian male voice. “We have two hours to raise $575 for bail or the judge will send Jerrod to jail.”
He gave her details on how to wire money to Vancouver. She told him she’d do what he asked.
Ninety minutes later, the scammer called back.
“I have the cash,” said my mother, “but my car won’t start!”
“Can you take a cab?”
“I don’t know how to do that,” she said. “Maybe my neighbors can help. Can you give me 15 minutes?”
He phoned back 15 minutes later.
“We still can’t get it started,” said my mother. “My neighbor doesn’t drive, but her husband will be home soon. Can you give me a half-hour?”
He phoned back 30 minutes later.
“I went to Western Union,” said my mother, “but the lady said I didn’t have the right information. Can you give it to me again?”
Grumbling, he gave her the information again.
“Can I talk to my grandson?” she said. “Is he OK?”
“He’s on his way to the judge.”
“May I have your cell number in case I forget something?”
“I’m unable to take calls when in court. How long do you think it will take to wire the money?”
“Can you give me a half-hour?”
He phoned back several more times — the caller ID said “no information” when he did — but my mother waited 30 minutes to answer.
“I gave the Western Union woman the money!” she said, sounding relieved.
“Do you have the confirmation number on the receipt?”
“When you give them the money, they give you a receipt,” he said impatiently.
“I didn’t get a receipt!”
“Lady, how can you give someone $575 and not get a receipt?!”
He was beside himself.
“I’m sorry. I’m so worried about Jerrod! Can you give me another half-hour so I can go get the receipt?”
“For godssake, lady. Get it right this time.”
He called back 30 minutes later. She gave him a made-up confirmation number.
Two minutes later, realizing the confirmation number was useless, he began calling back every two minutes – and did so for more than an hour.
My mother let the phone ring.
She scammed the scammer. She tied him up for more than seven hours — preventing him, we hope, from scamming someone less suspecting.
She had fun, but what she did was profound.
There are bad people in the world. Despite our laws — despite multiple government agencies that are supposed to protect us — bad people persist.
My mother stepped up. In between the scammer’s calls, she called the local police. Since there was little they could do, she did what she could to take control and thwart something wrong.
Imagine a country where everybody took control — everyone stepped up to do what little he or she could do.
There surely would be fewer scams. There would surely be a more energetic, engaged citizenry — the kind of citizenry on which lasting civilizations are built.
One thing is for sure: Scammers won’t be phoning my mother anytime soon.