Port Angeles woman foils phone scam

By Arwyn Rice and Leah Leach
Peninsula Daily News

PORT ANGELES — The scam is a common one: A person on the phone says, ‘Hey, Grandma, I’m stranded in a foreign country, and I need money,” hoping someone on the other end of the line will pony up.

Often, a trusting, older person falls for it.

But it doesn’t work when the call’s recipient does the right thing, asking lots of questions and refraining from sending money.

That’s exactly what Anna-Grace Skewes did when she picked up the phone Friday.

Skewes, a Port Angeles resident who has spent most of her adult life around law enforcement, isn’t your typical 75-year-old grandmother.

Her husband, Jay Skewes, was a police chief in several Washington cities.

In the 1970s, he was undersheriff of Clallam County.

Skewes also was a Sheriff’s Office employee.

“I had my own badge — I worked as a matron,” she said.

Matrons served as escorts when male officers transported women and children, she said.

So Friday’s call from a young man claiming to be her grandson-in-law Michael, living in with her granddaughter Britney and their young son in the Spokane area, sent up plenty of warning flags for Skewes.

“At exactly 10 a.m., the phone rang,” she said. “It was a young man’s voice. He said, ‘Hi Grandma, this is Michael.’”

Skewes said the man told her a friend had won tickets to visit Greece, and he decided to go at the last minute.

That didn’t seem like Michael, she said, because he wouldn’t leave his wife and young son on a whim.

His voice didn’t sound right, either, and when she asked about it, he told her the long-distance line from Greece made his voice sound different.

By then, Skewes said was suspicious.

“This is Britney’s Michael?” she said she asked.

When Skewes asked about their son, the caller hung up.

“He never got around to asking for money,” she said.

She immediately called her daughter to confirm that Michael was not traveling, then reported the call to the Port Angeles police, who said they could do little except congratulate her on her quick thinking.

Skewes “absolutely did the right thing,” said Officer John Nutter later that day.

“We encourage community members to be very cautious about any activity that involves them sending money,” he said.

Unfortunately, police can’t investigate without more facts, he added.

“We don’t know where the call came from,” he said. “There’s no call to trace.

“When there are facts we have to work with, we will gladly work with it,” he added.

Many scam calls come from overseas, and “there’s very little we can do to pursue them,” he said.

Skewes said that the thing that really bothered her was that she is careful about her personal information, doesn’t use the Internet and even destroys address labels on magazines.

But the caller knew her phone number and that she had a connection with a Michael.

Her telephone prefix is not a common one for the Port Angeles area, she said.

Nutter said while that scam was a new one for the area, he was familiar with other con games.

Among those are an Internet puppy scam, in which people send money for dogs that never arrive.

Or people are asked to divulge bank account or credit card numbers.

“If it is truly your bank or credit card company, they will already know your numbers,” Nutter said.

According to the FBI, the “grandparent scam” was first seen in 2008.

Elderly individuals are told their grandchild is stranded overseas and needs money to get home or has been arrested. Personal details are gleaned from the grandchild’s social networking websites.

The FBI has a website, www.tinyurl.com/d7fm2rx, that identifies several variations on the scam, including one in which military families are told their service member has gotten into trouble while on leave.

The caller may pretend to be a grandchild but sometimes identifies him or herself as a police officer or court official, according to the FBI website.

The FBI has three recommendations for those who get such a call.

■ Resist the pressure to act quickly.

■ Try to contact your grandchild or another family member to determine whether or not the call is legitimate.

■ Never wire money based on a request made over the phone or in an e-mail — especially overseas. Wiring money is like giving cash. Once you send it, you can’t get it back.

________

Reporter Arwyn Rice can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5070, or at arwyn.rice@peninsuladailynews.com

Last modified: February 03. 2013 6:07PM
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