Hi Grandpa

The following story actually happened:

Around 10 am Wednesday morning the phone rang. I picked it up and said, “Hello”. “Hi Grandpa,” was the reply. There are few things that grandfathers like hearing more than that, though often with a bit of apprehension about the call’s purpose. I didn’t immediately recognize the caller and I didn’t want one of my grandchildren to think that I didn’t recognize their voice. I concluded that it must be my daughter’s oldest child.

“Is this you Bryce, you sound a bit different,” I said.

“Yes, sorry I have a cold,” he replied

Bryce proceeded to spell out, a bit hesitantly, the reason for his call. It was obvious that he was somewhat nervously working up to something.

“One of my coworkers caught COVID-19. On the way to get tested this morning I had an accident. I swerved into the car next to me. I had briefly taken my eyes off the road to check the GPS and hit another car. Unfortunately, when the police arrived, I told them that I had been on the phone, which, of course, is illegal. It was a mistake; I wasn’t on the phone, but now I am in jail. I want to transfer to you my lawyer to better explain things. Will you please talk to him?”

“Well, yes, of course,” I said anxiously.

The lawyer proceeded to explain that though the four people in the car Bryce struck (a man and his eight-month pregnant wife and three-year-old daughter) had been taken to the hospital, none were seriously injured. Bryce’s court date was set for the afternoon of December 15 and the lawyer was confident that Bryce would be cleared of any charges. However, as it was important to keep Bryce’s misstatement about being on the phone off the record, the lawyer had obtained a gag order prohibiting anyone from saying anything about the case. That included me.

The lawyer asked me if I was willing to put up the $16,000 bail required to get Bryce out of jail pending his court appearance. He then proceeded to ask me some “security” questions to verify my identity. For example, he asked if I could tell him Bryce’s address.

“Well, I am still in bed and I don’t have his address here, but it is off interstate 90 between Issaquah and Belview on the way to Seattle.” “So, you can confirm that he is in the state of Washington,” he asked. “Yes” I said.

The lawyer continued that Bryce was in the city jail in downtown Seattle. He explained that more local jails were full, and that the Seattle jail was the nearest one with room. He explained that while I could provide the bail money any way I wanted (and I would get all of the money back when Bryce appeared in court) anything other than cash would cause at least a two-day delay while the check or charge cleared. So obviously I would need to pay in cash if I wanted him released right away. After establishing that I was in Bethesda, MD (not Washington State) the lawyer said that he would need a bit of time to locate a bail bondsman in my area. During that time, he recommended that I take out the required cash from my bank. He stressed that because of the gag order I must not tell my bank the purpose of my cash withdrawal nor mention my Grandson’s name. He gave me the case number.  I asked him to email it to me with his name and phone number.

Before calling my bank for the appointment (currently required during the Covid-19 pandemic), I emailed my daughter: “Did you know that your son is in jail?”

The conversation with my bank was interesting. They said that they would not have that amount of cash to give me and would require several days to acquire it. I was shocked and distressed.

The lawyer called back an hour or so later to say that he had located three bail bondsmen in the Washington, DC area who could take the cash and forward the bond. When I explained that I couldn’t get that much cash for a few days he asked how much I thought I could get saying that he would go back to the judge and plead for a smaller deposit amount. I reminded him that I had not received his email yet. He said that he would check on it.

That was the last I heard from him. Moments later, my daughter emailed me to say that Bryce was at home in bed and would call me shortly, which he did. We had a fun conversation, and I was enormously relieved on several levels.

All of us have received fraudulent emails or phone calls. Of late I have had several from the “Social Security Administration” reporting fraudulent uses of my SS number. These scammers are pretty easy to spot and I never give any personal or financial information to them. I either hang up or waste as much of their time as possible. How was I tricked on this occasion? How did I so readily overlook obvious red flags?

Red flags:

When I received “Bryce’s” phone call at 10:00 am it was 7:00 am his time on the West Coast. I doubt that he has ever been out of bed that early much less to drive to a virus testing station. And I was told (and accepted without question) that he was already in jail by that time, that he had engaged a lawyer, that a judge had set the date for his court appearance, set bail, and imposed a gag order.

The gag order itself was strange.

Being jailed for talking on the phone while driving was even stranger.

The cash that must be paid to a bail bondsman is 10% of the bond and is nonrefundable (which I didn’t know at the time never having dealt with a bail bond).

How did I miss all of that? I feel like an idiot. That is what a voice saying “Hi Grandpa” will do to you.

By the way, the “lawyer’s” phone number in Banff, Alberta, Canada is +1 (403) 431-1517. Say hi for me.

About wcoats

I specialize in advising central banks on monetary policy and the development of the capacity to formulate and implement monetary policy.  I joined the International Monetary Fund in 1975 from which I retired in 2003 as Assistant Director of the Monetary and Financial Systems Department. While at the IMF I led or participated in missions to the central banks of over twenty countries (including Afghanistan, Bosnia, Croatia, Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kosovo, Kyrgystan, Moldova, Serbia, Turkey, West Bank and Gaza Strip, and Zimbabwe) and was seconded as a visiting economist to the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (1979-80), and to the World Bank's World Development Report team in 1989.  After retirement from the IMF I was a member of the Board of the Cayman Islands Monetary Authority from 2003-10 and of the editorial board of the Cayman Financial Review from 2010-2017.  Prior to joining the IMF I was Assistant Prof of Economics at UVa from 1970-75.  I am currently a fellow of Johns Hopkins Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, Institute for Applied Economics, Global Health, and the Study of Business Enterprise.  In March 2019 Central Banking Journal awarded me for my “Outstanding Contribution for Capacity Building.”  My most recent book is One Currency for Bosnia: Creating the Central Bank of Bosnia and Herzegovina. I have a BA in Economics from the UC Berkeley and a PhD in Economics from the University of Chicago. My dissertation committee was chaired by Milton Friedman and included Robert J. Gordon.
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1 Response to Hi Grandpa

  1. Robert Pringle says:

    Good and courageous of you to share that story, Warren. I have twice narrowly escaped being trapped by similar stories – amazing how convincing the fraudsters can be, and what research they do to get details of one’s personal life

    Best

    Robert

    >

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