Senior citizen stymies scummy scammers

Wild phone scam targets Lake Holm woman

Echo Smither is a retired teacher, been bumping about the planet for almost 80 years, a highly intelligent person.

Even with all that going for her, bad guys working a con that preys upon familial ties and grandparently affection almost took Smither and her retired husband for $3,000 worth of their hard-earned savings.

But for the timely intervention of a stranger who sniffed the air and caught the sickly stench of scam, the bad guys might have gotten away with it.

“I gotta tell you it was really convincing,” the Lake Holm resident said in a phone call to the Auburn Reporter.

Now she wants others to know what happened.

One recent day Smither got a phone call from a man she didn’t know, bearing alarming news: seems her grandson, Jason, had been in a car accident in Mexico.

Oh, my gosh, Smither said.

Want to talk to Jason, the man asked, and put him on the line.

“He said, ’Hi, grandma, how are you?’ Then he kind of hesitated. He really did sound like my grandson,” Smither said.

And out poured a tale of woe. Seems “Jason” had been on his way back home from Mexico where he’d been to attend a friend’s funeral, when he hit somebody with his car. His fault, “Jason” acknowledged sadly – he hadn’t checked his rearview mirror.

Then the original caller returned to the phone and identified himself as “Jason’s lawyer.” Grandson could go to jail, said the man, could be a long time before he goes to trial, and, well, you know, it’s pretty nasty in those Mexican jails.

“But we could probably figure out something,” the man volunteered.

Turns out, said the “lawyer,” “Jason” had hit a politician, a high-up person, a wildly popular person, so it’d best to keep the whole affair on the low down, tell no one about it because, after all, her grandson was an American citizen, and the Mexican people might be mighty peeved at him.

“Jason” didn’t have much money, said the “lawyer,” and while he could get him out, it would cost. How much? About $4,000. Smither protested, she didn’t have $4,000. Well, good news, Mr. Lawyer had a friend who could scrape up $1,000 if Smither could find $3000.

All she had to do was go to her bank, withdraw money, go to Walmart, buy some gift cards, read the numbers on the gift cards over the phone, and he and his could cash ’em. No sweat.

Smither did as told, withdrew $3,000 from her savings account and proceeded to Walmart

“That’s where this dear lady who was in charge – I wish I knew her name, I’d like to find her – said, ‘Honey, I am not going to sell you these gift cards. This has got to be a scam,” Smither recalled. “When I got home I started thinking, ‘Yeah, all this does sound kinda peculiar.”

Now suspicious, when she next talked to “Jason,” she asked him for his brother’s name, and he hung up on her.

She thought that’d be the end of it.

Then came the call from the “FBI agent,” hot on the trail of her scammers, he said. He suggested she give the bad guys the card numbers over the phone while he and his fellow agents listened in, so they could catch them in the act. Of course, she and her husband would be fully reimbursed.

But when she said wanted to verify the agent’s identity, he, too, hung up.

“I’m not a dummy, and it was still pretty convincing for me. I think people should be aware of it,” Smither said.

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