BULLHEAD CITY — The phone number was the first clue that something was fishy.
M.J. O’Connor, of Fort Mohave, got a call earlier this month purportedly from her grandson.
He broke the bad news to her, crying all the way through it: He’d been attending a wedding in Florida, and was in a car crash that broke his nose.
Furthermore, the “grandson” said, police found two pounds of marijuana in the trunk of the car in which he had been riding.
The result was that he was in jail and needed $4,500 in bail money. He also pleaded with her not to tell anyone about his ordeal.
O’Connor promptly agreed to pay it, at which point the “grandson” turned the call over to an “Officer Mendez,” who would give her instructions on how to send the money.
O’Connor said the caller knew her grandson’s name, that she was a widow and some other details, and that his voice sounded like her grandson’s.
She said she was a little suspicious that the bail amount was known before her “grandson” had even seen the judge.
“Mendez,” she said, left her a number to call back once she’d gathered the bail money.
The number is where O’Connor became suspicious. She recognized the area code — 562 — as being tied to Southern California — across the country from where “Mendez” supposedly works.
She called the number.
“I told him, ‘You’re putting the make on me,’ ” O’Connor said. “I got to thinking, ‘wait a minute this isn’t gonna fly.’ ”
O’Connor said that when she told Mendez that she thought he was trying to pull a scam on her, he responded “Oh, no, ma’am, I wouldn’t do that.”
The scammer left another number with O’Connor. That was an 877 area code — a toll-free number. A reverse look-up of the number listed at least five incidents reporting a scam or automated “spam” caller.
The case featured several red flags pointing toward what is known as the “grandparent” scam, said spokeswoman Emily Fromelt of the Bullhead City Police Department. She said those include the urgency, a need to keep things a secret and the implication that something bad would happen should O’Connor not send money.
“Also, he wasn’t calling from where he said he was calling from,” Fromelt said.
The BCPD is mentioned in another scam making its way through the area. Fromelt said a resident received a call from someone who said he was a Bullhead City police officer.
He then told the target that she had a warrant, and asked for money.
Fromelt said the police department doesn’t call people about warrants, and would not ask for money over the phone.
The Daily News recently heard from three residents who said they had received calls purportedly from the Social Security Administration. The spiel was similar in each case — someone’s Social Security number was compromised, and the person needed to verify some information.
One man said he was told that his Social Security checks would halt unless he called a specific number. He said that he’d read in the newspaper earlier that the agency doesn’t call clients for that purpose.
Another woman reported the same thing; she was aware of the potential scam because she had seen it in the Mohave Valley Daily News.
None of the individuals gave the caller any personal information.
Fromelt offered several tips for detecting possible scams:
• The caller is in another country.
• You are threatened with something bad (such as your bank account closing or your arrest) happening if you do not send money or provide/verify personal information.
• You are told there is an urgency to send money.
• You are asked to “fill in the blanks” — the caller knows a little, and asks for more information. Fromelt said people should be suspicious if someone claiming to represent an organization they do business with asks them to verify information.
“Never verify or give out bank or personal information if you didn’t initiate the call,” she said. “Simply hang up and call a number you know to be legitimate.”
• You are urged to keep things a secret.
• You are asked to send money via wire transfer, prepaid credit cards or gift cards.
“A legitimate organization will never ask you to send them payments through prepaid cards or a wire transfer,” Fromelt said “Criminals can get away with untraceable cash. I’m sure that’s where ‘Officer Mendez’ was going with the payment instructions.”
• If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
“If you did not buy a lottery ticket or enter to win a prize, you did not win,” Fromelt said.