“My first instinct was, when he said Grandma. My grandchildren, grandsons do not call me grandma. They call me Dorothy. That was my first clue that something was wrong here,” said Dorothy Pillar.
© Herald photo by KJ Dakin
Dorothy Pillar was the intended victim of a phone scam for almost $2,000 on Wednesday afternoon. She answered a call at 1:27 p.m. to hear the panicked voice of a young man claiming to be her "favourite grandson." He called her grandma and told her he was in trouble and needed her help. Above, Pillar sits beside the phone she answered a few hours before, counting her blessings that she wasn't quite taken in by the scammer.
Pillar is a local senior who was the intended victim of a phone scam for almost $2,000 on Wednesday afternoon.
“I kept thinking, Grandma is not right. If he had once said Dorothy.”
At 1:27 p.m. she answered a call from a private number, coming in long-distance, to hear the panicked voice of a young man claiming to be her "favourite grandson."
“The young fella really did have a panic sound to his voice. As if he was really afraid.”
“When I didn’t recognize the voice at first, I said, who’s speaking, who am I talking to? And he said, ‘Well your favourite grandson, grandma,’ and I thought I don’t have a favourite grandson. And then I said ‘Lionel?’ and he said, ‘Yes,’.”
“I will admit that I mistook it for Lionel,” she said.
The man claiming to be Lionel begged for her silence.
“He kept saying, pleading with me, ‘Please Grandma, don’t tell anyone, promise me.’”
Pillar’s daughter, Erla Campbell had come over to have a relaxing day with her mother and could hear the call as Pillar normally uses the speakerphone.
Pillar told Lionel that Campbell was there.
“‘Can she hear?’ and I said yes and he said, ‘Promise me; please promise me that she won’t say nothing. Please promise me that she won’t tell nobody, that she won’t say nothing to nobody, that I’m in trouble,’ “ Pillar recounted.
Apparently reassured, the caller told Pillar that he was being held at the jail-house and had been picked up last night for drunken driving and rear-ending another vehicle from Quebec.
The story went that his lawyer, Richard Steinburg, had swung a deal with the judge that if the car was paid for, Lionel would get no criminal record, no points against his licence and he could be discharged from jail immediately.
In order for that to happen however, Pillar would need to immediately send $1,985 via Western Union to Dorval, Que., for one Michel Drapeau.
Her “grandson” told her his lawyer would be calling to give her the details of how to wire the funds.
Soon the phone rang again.
“The “lawyer” said to me that as soon this money is sent to pay for the damages on the other car, all charges would disappear,” said Campbell who had answered the phone in her mother’s stead.
However, Campbell knew better.
“An impaired driving charge doesn’t disappear, it doesn’t matter how much you pay, you can’t get off an impaired.”
After “Lionel” was off the line they got her grandson to call her from his workplace in Buckland.
“It was scary. But once I got ahold of my grandson … as soon as he called me and I heard his voice -- that was a big relief. Then I was sure it was a hoax.”
Then they called the Prince Albert Police Service and were informed that it was most likely a scam, but that the police couldn’t do much. They cannot trace the call unless someone receives three consecutive calls.
The police also said that they seemed to be targeting seniors, Pillar said.
Despite the police being unable to take action, the ladies were not finished.
Answering the third call, and the second from the “lawyer,” they were asked for a confirmation number from the Western Union receipt.
“Well did you get a receipt? Do you have the receipt with you?’” Campbell recalls his question.
“I said well no. I said you need to call this number to get that,” ’Well it should be right on your receipt. Didn’t you look after this?’ … I said you need to call this number … And he says ‘Well who is that and why?’ I say it’s the city police. ‘Oh, I get you now,’ Click.”
This is the first time Pillar has ever experienced a scammer.
“I’ve read about it but never dreamed.”
Times have been challenging for Pillar lately as she is just recovering from a stroke and partial facial paralysis.
“If I hadn’t of been here, she’d have been out just about $2,000, because she’d have been panicked, she’d have been like ‘OK, It’s my grandson, I’m gonna help him out,’” Campbell said.
“If my daughter hadn’t of been here, nine times out of 10, I would have hit the panic mode and gone down and wired them the money, even though I was thinking that Lionel doesn’t call me Grandma, I’d have thought, well he’s in a pinch, he’s in trouble, anything is possible,” Pillar said.
“You wonder how many seniors that actually have been taken in by that and are ashamed to come forward and admit it. That’s the reason I said ... ‘I’m calling the Herald.”