An 82-year old Tamaqua woman pulled the rug on a scam by going to police instead of wiring $6,000, which she was led to believe would bail out her grandson from reputed legal troubles.
The scam is similar to one reported in the TIMES NEWS on Aug. 11 when a Mahoning Township grandmother, age 81, was led to believe her granddaughter had been arrested in the Dominican Republic and needed $4,600 in assistance.
In both cases, the women were stopped before wiring the money.
The Tamaqua case was especially elaborate and apparently included more than one scammer, possibly three.
Here's how it worked. An unsuspecting Jeanette O'Gorman, Lehigh Street, was contacted by phone and advised that her 16-year-old grandson Connor had been apprehended by New York police. The caller identified himself as a law enforcement officer and said Connor had been riding in a car which had been stopped by cops and found to be carrying a stash of illegal drugs in the trunk.
The caller told O'Gorman that she would need to wire $6,000 in order for Connor to be released. They then supplied her with a phone number and address. The caller even offered a list of Tamaqua area businesses which serve as Western Union outlets.
The party calling O'Gorman claimed to be somewhere in New York state near the Canadian border, and said they were holding Conner pending an upcoming legal hearing.
"They said his hearing won't be for three weeks and that he's upset and crying and doesn't want anyone to know," said O'Gorman.
At that point, O'Gorman questioned whether the call was a hoax. The caller responded with "I'll put my sergeant on the phone."
O'Gorman then asked to speak with her grandson. The caller handed the phone to another party a person who sounded much like Connor, she said.
"He was upset and crying and he called me Grammy, which he always does. The voice sounded like his. I was 99.9 percent sure that it was my grandson on the phone."
O'Gorman offered to travel to New York to pick up her grandson but the caller refused.
"They said they would put him on a plane to fly him home," said O'Gorman, who added that the phone call upset her a great deal.
"I sat for about an hour and cried."
O'Gorman intended to comply with the request, even if meant taking a loan for the money or putting up her house for collateral. But something just didn't sound right to her, including the fact that the caller wouldn't allow her to travel to New York in person to retrieve Connor.
O'Gorman went to Tamaqua police with the information provided by the caller. There, Cpl. Henry Woods called the phone number and spoke with a party who answered. Woods determined that it was not a police call, but a scammer.
O'Gorman said grandson Connor lives in Alabama and was visiting with family members in California at the time she received the call. The next day, O'Gorman was able to reach her daughter in California and learned that Connor was fine and had not been in New York.
On Tuesday, Chief Dave Mattson said phone scams can be difficult to resolve. They often result in investigations that hit a dead end.
"The calls are untraceable or else the phone number is traced to a large corporation and it can't be traced to any particular individual. It's undocumentable," said Mattson.
In addition, said Mattson, investigations into calls that involve foreign countries are especially complicated as they can require police to obtain international search warrants and once again the call invariably turns out to be untraceable.
The best advice, he says, is for people to learn to protect themselves from telephone and Internet fraud.
"Don't give out any personal information," said Mattson.
In addition, if you think you're the target of a scam, contact your local police. You can do this even if you have the scammers on hold on a landline phone.
"Some people have two phones," said Mattson. "If you receive the phone call at home, you can use your cell phone to contact the police. There are sometimes ways we can tap in and trace a call."
O'Gorman, who has lived in Tamaqua for over 60 years, also has turned over details of the scam to her other grandson, who happens to be a state trooper in North Carolina.
She told the TIMES NEWS that she is still shaken from the experience. But she decided to step forward with her story in order to protect others, so that other parents and grandparents can be informed and prepared in case they receive a similar phone call.