September 16, 2014
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Beware of calls that family members are in need

Beware Warwick residents: there is a telephone scam that has the potential of costing you money, and quite a bit of aggravation. It involves callers misinforming the person on the other line that a relative or friend is in trouble and in need of money.

City Clerk Marie Ahlert said the issue hit home for her – literally – as a person recently called her father claiming that her son had been arrested the night before, and needed funds to bail him out of jail.

In an interview last week, Ahlert said she knew it was a scam as soon as she spoke to her father because her son, Carl Bennett, 24, a member of the Air National Guard, had been at her home the evening in question.

“He was sitting on my couch at 11 o’clock at night,” Ahlert said. “Emotionally, it was killing my father to even have to call me and tell me this had happened. As soon as he told me, none of it was making sense because I knew my son was with me the night before.”

Ahlert posted information about the incident on her Facebook wall. Within hours, at least 10 other people, including Christian van Dijk of the city’s Management Information Services department, said their loved ones received similar calls.

“Everybody I tell the story to says it happened to somebody they know,” Ahlert said.

She went on to say that her father asked multiple questions, which she believes made the caller nervous.

“He said, ‘I want your phone number so I can verify this,’ and the guy was like, ‘What do you need the phone number for? Your grandson is locked up, and you need to get the money to him,’” Ahlert said. “My father said, ‘Well, there are scam artists out there, and I need to call my daughter and let her know what’s going on.’”

As noted, the same thing happened to van Dijk. A call was made to his 87-year-old grandfather, informing him that van Dijk was locked up for drug possession. Of course, that was not that case at all.

“My grandfather received a call from this guy who supposedly was me,” said van Dijk. “He didn’t come out and say my name because my name is very complex, so it was hard for him to believe that he knew my name. My grandfather said my name and the guy grabbed hold of it and ended up using it. He said that I was in jail and trafficking drugs out of New York, and that I needed $4,800 bail.”

Luckily, his grandfather is a former Warwick Police Officer, so he immediately called van Dijk. He quickly found out his grandson was not behind bars.

“He said, ‘Where are you?’ and I said I’m at my desk working,’” van Dijk said. “He said, ‘So, you’re not in jail right now? Someone just called and said they were you and that you were in jail and needed $4,800.’”

From there, van Dijk said his grandfather tried calling back the number, as it appeared on his caller ID. The number, which has a California area code, had been disconnected.

“It’s some sort of scam,” he said. “There are people out there preying on the elderly and it’s awful. It’s troubling.”


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