He thought he was being "a good citizen," helping Baltimore police crack a banking swindle. After all, it was Police zTC Commissioner Thomas C. Frazier himself who contacted him to lend a hand -- and some money.
Instead, Wentworth Julius Hildebrand's good deed turned sour when the phony commissioner conned him out of $18,000.
Baltimore County and city police were searching yesterday for the con man, described as white, about 50 years old, 5 feet 9 inches tall and 170 pounds, with brown-gray hair and a brown mustache. The real commissioner is taller, heavier and has silver hair.
"He was so very convincing," said Mr. Hildebrand, 84, a retired truck driver who lives with his wife in Parkville. "I was so concerned about helping them catch these people who were trying to get my money and other people's money that I believed him. It just irritates me that I fell for it."
His unfortunate adventure began Wednesday when the phone rang, and the caller identified himself as "Commissioner Frazier from the city police." The caller asked for help in catching people stealing money from depositors at Provident Bank on Harford Road.
Directing Mr. Hildebrand to withdraw $9,000, the caller said the money would be held for "safekeeping" until the suspects were arrested.
When he returned home, Mr. Hildebrand got another call from the "commissioner," who told him to drive to the parking lot of Parkville Shopping Center.
Sitting in his black Mercury Grand Marquis, Mr. Hildebrand was approached by a stocky man in a dark business jacket and tie. The man flashed a gold badge, took the money and walked away, Mr. Hildebrand said.
"When I got back home, I tried to call Commissioner Frazier all day to see how the investigation was going," he said. "But they told me he was in meetings all day. Maybe I could have found out that it was all a scam."
He didn't find out until Thursday, after the con man struck again.
Same story. Different bank. NationsBank on Harford Road was being hit by the same suspects this time, the man said. Again, Mr. Hildebrand withdrew $9,000, met the man at the shopping center and handed over the money. Again, he tried to contact Commissioner Frazier and again, he had no luck.
At that point Mr. Hildebrand became suspicious, so he called his brother-in-law, a former Baltimore police major.
"He told me it happens all the time," said Mr. Hildebrand, who immediately called city police.
Though a con man may have false identification -- such as a badge -- a request for written materials and call-back numbers often will reveal the fraud, Attorney General J. Joseph Curran said.