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News Maryland Baltimore County Catonsville

Phone scam tries to trick residents into transferring cash

Caton Manor resident Henry Frantz received a phone call about three weeks ago that has the 82-year-old on his guard ever since.

"The phone rang and I answered it and the voice said, 'Hi Pop Pop,' " Frantz said.

Frantz said the person was pretending to be his grandson, a 22-year-old New Jersey resident.

"He said 'I'm in trouble,' " Frantz said. "He said he went to Mexico for a funeral of a friend that died, and while he was there, he got caught with a friend who had some drugs and they've got him locked up. And he needed $2,000 right away."

When he told the caller he didn't have that amount of money, the caller hung up, Frantz said.

Feeling unnerved, Frantz said he called his grandson's father right after hanging up. To his surprise, his grandson answered the phone.

"He didn't know anything what I was talking about," Frantz said on his questions about a trip to Mexico or being arrested..

Phone calls like this one are not uncommon, said Baltimore County Police Cpl. Cathy Batton.

A similar string of scam calls happened in March in the Towson area.

"We see different types of scams going on throughout the year," Batton said. "The content of the scam sometimes changes, but the basic format is that they're calling with some emotional trigger for you. They're banking on an emotional response from you before you have a chance to think through the fact that you're sending money or sending your personal information ... without any verification."

Batton said the key is to catch people like Frantz off guard and trick them into giving up more information.

"You should never provide your personal information, or any money, to anyone if you are not able to verify who they are and where this money is going," she said.

She said that, if Frantz's grandson had really been arrested, there would be documentation somewhere and that bail would be posted through a government organization, not over the phone.

"There's no reason to provide money to someone over the phone without confirming with a government agency," Batton said. "If you're thinking about it rationally rather than emotionally, you would realize that.

"They want your emotions to overrun your intellect," she said.

That is exactly what happened to Frantz, he said.

"I was shocked," he said. "My grandson is 22 and he just got back from Italy because he's taking a course in being a chef. And then I get this call saying he's in Mexico."

"We gave them food for thought," he said, noting he used his grandson's name early in the conversation, allowing the person on the other end to repeat it from then on. "We played into their hands."

Frantz said his neighbor also received a similar phone call shortly after his.

"They said it was my grandson and said he was, I forget where, some far off place," said Frantz's neighbor, who did not want to be identified. "I said it didn't sound like him and they said he had broken his nose ... and that was why his voice was different.

"He said that they had been in an accident and they rented a car and picked up a hitchhiker," the neighbor said. "Then they picked up the hitchhiker, the police had been watching him and the police arrested all of them. They said they would let him out that night if he had $1,000."

"I said to him, 'Well, I don't have $1,000,' and with that, he hung up," the neighbor said.

Batton encouraged residents like Frantz and his neighbor to call police if they receive similar phone calls.

"They're very good at putting pressure on victims," she said. "If your gut is telling you something isn't right, call the police department and tell us what's going on."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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