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Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Almost duped

But a gut feeling told him he was being scammed

Posted: 03/20/2014 1:00 AM | Comments: 0

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Sometimes -- even in these all-a-Twitter times -- news still travels slowly.

I was walking the dog around the block Tuesday night when a neighbour's car approached slowly and stopped. It was Hans Hasenack, the former honorary Dutch counsel, and he had a couple of stories to share.

The first one I'd already heard via his wife, Sandra. Their car had been broken into when they were in Florida this winter and their passports were stolen.

But it was the second story, the one I hadn't heard, that he really wanted to share.

His encounter with the notorious and insidious Grandparent Scam, or, in this case strictly speaking, a Relative Scam.

-- -- --

The first call arrived at 1:45 p.m. on a Monday early last month.

The somewhat muffled and unfamiliar voice announced who was calling.

"I can't remember if he said his name is John, or 'This is your son.' And then I said, 'John?' "

And Hans, confused and in shock, was hooked.

"John" went on to explain he didn't sound like himself because he had a broken nose that was bandaged up from being in a car accident in a parking lot -- which is why he was calling on a private number from the courthouse "bullpen."

He was there waiting to be processed after police arrested him for impaired driving.

"But John never drinks," Hans told me. He reminded "John" of that.

"Well," he responded, in his broken-nose voice. "I had a couple of glasses of champagne."

After all, he'd been to a wedding Sunday night, and it was as he was leaving that the car he was driving rear-ended a car bearing Quebec plates.

"John" said police arrived and administered a breathalyzer, which he failed by a very small margin.

"He said he couldn't talk, but his lawyer, Adam White, would call me and provide more details."

There was one other request: Don't phone anyone in the family and tell them what had happened.

Fifteen minutes had passed since the first call, but the shock hadn't subsided for Hans, when the home phone rang again.

It was the "lawyer."

He told Hans he might be able to dissuade police from laying formal charges because "John" was barely over the limit.

But that would mean his insurance to cover damages to the vehicles would be void and "John" would have to pay for the damage to the other car.

Of course, "John" was in no position to do that now, and he was at risk of spending the next two days in jail. So the only way to prevent that would be to come up with a cash settlement for the driver of the other car.

"He said, 'Meet me either at a Safeway or a Western Union,' to get the payment arranged," Hans recalled. "I couldn't figure out the Safeway part.

"I said, 'I can bring the cash. How much did they want?' "

The answer: $2,000.

After the fact, none of that makes any sense. But Hans was dealing with someone he thought was his son, and his son needed help. Hans told the "lawyer" he wanted to see his son in person so he could take care of any other needs. The "lawyer" told Hans to page him at the courthouse at 3 p.m. But 15 minutes after the second call, Hans received a third.

It was "John" again.

He told Hans police wouldn't let him see him and his dad would have to deal with his lawyer about being released from custody.

By then, Hans was trying to make sense of everything he'd heard: Western Union and Safeway? Plus, "John's" voice and manner of speaking seemed strange.

That's when Hans decided to test his gut feeling that none of it made sense.

"What's your son's name?" Hans asked "John."

John only has daughters.

There was silence on the other end of the phone -- then it went dead.

So where was the real John? By 3:15 p.m., an hour and a half after the scam began, it was over, and Hans was calling the school where John teaches. John was in class.

"But they had me convinced," Hans told me. "Right up to that last moment."

He thinks it was the reference to Western Union, and wiring money from there, that may have alerted him. It's the typical way the Grandparent Scam works. Did the theft of his passport and other valuables in Florida have anything to do with his being targeted?

Hans can only wonder.

-- -- --

RCMP say the Grandparent Scam is among the top three frauds reported by seniors in Canada.

In Winnipeg, police say since Sept. 23, 14 Grandparent Scams and 16 Relative Scams have been reported. But police believe actual numbers are probably higher because people are ashamed or scared to report they've been scammed.

A week after Hans foiled the first scam, he received another call.

This time it was his "nephew" calling to say he had been in an accident.

"They tried to do it again," Hans said. "They hadn't crossed me off the list."

 

gordon.sinclair@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 20, 2014 B1

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