Next time, call your mother when you need bailing out.
February 17, 2011 12:27 PM   Subscribe

How far to go for semi-estranged relative in big legal trouble due to their own foolishness? Anonymous because I need some plausible deniability. More inside.

This morning, my dad, with whom I live, and I got a call from a relative - let's call them "R."

"R" had taken a trip to a European country and was apparently unwittingly caught up in a drug trade. For the record, this is not a naive college kid - this is a thirtysomething who is a college graduate with a job.

In trouble and under arrest, "R" called the embassy, and they called, not R's mother, or sisters, but US. R's excuse was they couldn't tell their mother or sisters, and the (very nice) staff sergeant at the embassy said that R was "crying and throwing up" at the prospect of telling their mother. So, R called us, because I guess we wouldn't judge.

I'm not a complete cold-hearted bitch, so I wired R the bail money with a message that next time R HAD to cowpoke up and call their mother or sisters for help, that this was a one-time-only thing.

Here's why I'm so hacked I can hardly type:

- R and their family can hardly be bothered to call us when they are NOT in trouble. R's mother sends cards, and sent a sympathy card when my mom died, but not a peep from R or one of their sisters. But when R got into trouble, they called us! Grr!

- Dad and I are wealthy (to be blunt) and we suspect this might be one big reason R came running to us.

- How easy is it for an American tourist to get into drug-related trouble in Europe, anyway? Something tells me that you don't run into drug dealers at the Louvre or British Museum or Mad King Ludwig's palaces. If this is truly an easy thing for a tourist to fall victim to, I retract my statement, but something tells me that R was at the least slumming, at the most not telling the whole truth and nothing but. R's reluctance to call their mother reinforces this. Dad agrees with me.

What beyond this do we owe R? One reason I helped was I felt bad for their mother and older sister - but I think it's their lookout to help, especially since they are middle-class, not poor.

Am I right in smelling a rat? Is it likely there is something shady that R is not telling us? Or is this an "it could happen to YOU" cautionary tale? As I said, R is 30, not 18. I am beyond-words angry, and upset that my poor dad has to go through this, but I'd be a completely unfeeling person if I didn't feel a little apprehensive about R (and their mother and sisters).


(You can probably guess who I am due to details, but this needs to be anonymous for now.)
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (48 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
 
have you spoken to R? are you 100% certain it wasn't this kind of scam?
posted by changeling at 12:33 PM on February 17, 2011 [15 favorites]


should have linked to this piece from the FTC "Scammers Pose as Friends, Family and Government Agencies."
posted by changeling at 12:36 PM on February 17, 2011 [4 favorites]


I would second the scam angle as well.
posted by k5.user at 12:37 PM on February 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


Oh, yeah. This might be a classic 'relative in trouble' scam. They've been kind of blowing up lately. Are you absolutely sure it was R on the other end of the line and not a scammer who had managed to get a bit of family information?
posted by mr_roboto at 12:38 PM on February 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Thirding the opinion that this may have been a scam. R may even have been complicit in the swindle.
posted by soelo at 12:38 PM on February 17, 2011


"R" called the embassy, and they called ... and the (very nice) staff sergeant at the embassy said that R was "crying and throwing up" at the prospect of telling their mother.

it looks like they might not have spoken to R, just the alleged embassy sergeant.
posted by changeling at 12:39 PM on February 17, 2011


Wait, so you never actually talked to R? Only to someone who said they were with the embassy? Is that right? Where did you wire the money to?
posted by fingersandtoes at 12:40 PM on February 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yep, my vote is scam.

But either way, I'd call R's mom and sis and let them know what happened. You don't have to mention that you may doubt the veracity of it, but just tell them about the phone call - if it's a scam, it might raise red flags if the scammers try to call them as well. If it's a real situation, it's something they should know, if only so that you don't become R's go-to fixer.
posted by superfluousm at 12:43 PM on February 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Money is gone, good thing you're wealthy. R is not in any particular trouble and would probably be shocked to hear about any of this.
posted by spacewrench at 12:47 PM on February 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


Nthing this might be a scam. I think past reading even confirms that the across international borders aspect can be common.

I'll suggest one more thing. Sometimes my BS Meter gets tripped and I get SuperWhiteHotPissed(tm) about something... only to find out I was right to be angry, but wrong about the source of my anger!

If "R" is really in trouble, then yes - bailing him out is decent, but the last involvement your dad should have with the issue.
posted by jbenben at 12:51 PM on February 17, 2011


Hmmm.... Someone speaking on his behalf gave you instructions to wire bail money. I'm thinking 'scam' too. A quick call to his home and relatives should solve this one. Surely his mother knows he's traveling in Europe... Unless he isn't. Call that embassy and see if this story lines up. If it does then he needs help. That's what you do for family... at least once.
posted by amanda at 12:52 PM on February 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Why would a staff sergeant make this kind of call? If this allegedly a U.S. embassy, I didn't think that the military provided consular services there.
posted by grouse at 1:02 PM on February 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


My initial reaction, after watching Fargo the other night, was that this sounded like a plot to a Coen brothers movie with a parallel between Jerry Lundegaard and R. In reality I didn't think this could possibly be a scam until I saw what the others posted. You should probably follow up with this and contact R and the embassy.
posted by Beardsley Klamm at 1:04 PM on February 17, 2011


This does have a scam written all over it. In particular, I'm wondering why anyone would have a Marine call you when it seems far more likely some consular officer or civilian staff would be doing the calling. Marines pulling embassy duty are pretty much there for security purposes, and they probably aren't visiting Americans in the local jails. Bonus points if the wire was Western Union and not in R's name.

I'd try to stop the transfer (probably too late) until you find out if this is real. Also, at least in this country, bail is provided by a bond, which means you'd be in contact with a bondsman or insurance agent-type to handle details.
posted by Hylas at 1:05 PM on February 17, 2011


Yep, you've likely been conned. This is the "relative in trouble" scam.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 1:08 PM on February 17, 2011


To add fuel to the scam fire - from what I understand from reading too many travel guidebooks, most embassies really don't give a crap about you if you break commonly understood laws abroad and get arrested by the local police force. (I mean, unless it's a potential diplomatic situation or an Amanda Knox scenario.)

It seems odd to me that the embassy is making international calls to the relative of R's choice and facilitating money transfers. They're not babysitters. At the very least they would have told him "sorry, man, if you didn't want your mom to know you were a junkie, you shouldn't have tried to score heroin in Zurich," and called his emergency contact or next of kin regardless of bro's precious fee-fees.
posted by Sara C. at 1:14 PM on February 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


Let's assume this poster has managed not to wire money to a relative without actually talking to said pathetic relative. Is it still a scam if R is only pretending to be in jail when R demands money? That's another issue entirely. But, moving on...

You did R a favor. You did not lay down the rules with R (other than "never again!!") before stating exactly what favor you did.
Did you
(a) give R the money?
(b) loan R the money?
(c) give R the money, on the condition that R talk to R's mom? (c' - or else you will)
(d) give R the money, on the condition that R talk to you and show sufficient embarassment and gratitude for never mentioning this to R's mom?
(e) give R the money on the assumption that you've now bought R's loyalty and R will send your dad Christmas and birthday cards forever?

It's fine to feel like you did R a favor, but if this feeling becomes resentment (gave R money and R never showed gratitude!!) then be sure R knows what you wanted.

In short - What do you want? Does R know that you want that?
posted by aimedwander at 1:17 PM on February 17, 2011 [4 favorites]


What beyond this do we owe R?

You don't owe R anything. Not one red cent. No, really. You had no obligation to wire R money, or do anything besides saying, "I can't help you with that, good luck." R is 30, employed, and has a family s/he could reach out to (mother, sisters). If you don't have a relationship with R (other than R asking for money), it's unreasonable for R to expect you to bail him/her out when s/he's in trouble. It doesn't even matter if this was a scam. Either way, R was using you for money whether that money was paying R's bail, paying a European scammer, or paying R. Stop giving R money and R will find another person to use.
posted by Meg_Murry at 1:18 PM on February 17, 2011 [5 favorites]


It doesn't even matter if this was a scam. Either way, R was using you for money whether that money was paying R's bail, paying a European scammer, or paying R.

To be fair, if it was a scam, R probably doesn't even know it happened, right?

OP, do you have email or phone contact available with R? I'd get in touch with him directly.
posted by torticat at 1:26 PM on February 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


From the OP:
- I actually talked to R. AND the embassy

- When I called back the number, they answered "American Embassy, X Country" and I could hear a lot of people in the background

- If this is a scam, it appears to be very sophisticated. I was inclined to believe it was genuine because they DID answer the phone with "American Embassy" and I talked to both R and a sergeant, who gave me his number to call.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 1:27 PM on February 17, 2011


It doesn't even matter if this was a scam. Either way, R was using you for money whether that money was paying R's bail, paying a European scammer, or paying R.


No. What people are saying is that this is an increasingly common scam that happens without the knowledge of the person in R's position - several people I know got an email from a mutual friend asking for a money wire bail out in a similar situation, but the friend was at home in America and mortified when he found out his account had been hacked.

Op, I'm sure you're already on it, and I hope you can post a follow-up, but what I think you owe R is to make a few calls and find out whether or not R has anything to do with this. Then you can proceed with a more or less distant relationship as you all prefer, but you'll know the truth about this.

My money's on scam and R is safe at home and hasn't a clue.
posted by crabintheocean at 1:31 PM on February 17, 2011


Or, you could find the embassy's official phone number online, and if it is different, call it and ask whether what you are experiencing is genuine.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 1:31 PM on February 17, 2011 [6 favorites]


If you call me right now, I'll answer the phone "American Embassy". That proves nothing. It fits so classically with the known scams right now that I doubt it was anything but a scam. R's involvement could be anything from going along with a prank to being fully aware that they were scamming you, but it still smells like a scam to me.
posted by bedhead at 1:31 PM on February 17, 2011 [4 favorites]


If I answer the phone with "Dr. Desjardins," you still shouldn't let me perform surgery on you. You should be able to verify the phone number of the embassy.
posted by desjardins at 1:33 PM on February 17, 2011 [7 favorites]


- I actually talked to R. AND the embassy

- When I called back the number, they answered "American Embassy, X Country" and I could hear a lot of people in the background

- If this is a scam, it appears to be very sophisticated. I was inclined to believe it was genuine because they DID answer the phone with "American Embassy" and I talked to both R and a sergeant, who gave me his number to call.


Maybe it isn't a scam, but I could go to a noisy coffee shop and answer my phone by saying "American Embassy". That isn't particularly sophisticated. I would look up the number for the embassy and call it or see if it matches the number you were given.
posted by Beardsley Klamm at 1:37 PM on February 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Still smells like scam.

Go find the publicly available phone number for this embassy, call *that* number, and ask to speak to the person you spoke to.

From now on I'll answer all my unknown callers with "American Embassy, New Jersey."
posted by ellenaim at 1:37 PM on February 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


Does this phone number have an area code? Does it start with a 1? You can deduce the location of the phone with a little detective work. Or, google the number and see if it turns up with anything to do with the American embassy of X country.
posted by wayland at 1:38 PM on February 17, 2011


I lived in Spain years ago, and knew an American arrested for a drug charge. The American Embassy did not make any calls to the US on their behalf. The Embassy was basically like, here is a list of Spanish lawyers who speak English, good luck.

The idea that a staff sergeant would make this call seems incredibly dubious. The only military personel at a US Embassy are Marines. And those Marines are not there to do State Dept. style staff work. The Marines guard the grounds, they do not help wayward travellers.

I think you were scammed too.
posted by Flood at 1:44 PM on February 17, 2011 [5 favorites]


From the OP:
Alas, it looks like this WAS a scam. Whoever did it, a) sounded like R and b) had a convincing line of patter when I followed up. It looks like I am out that money, (thankfully I can eat it) and I'm honestly a bit suspicious that R. wasn't in on the whole thing (as I said, the person on the phone really DID sound like R). All the more reason to not contact this side of the family.

Thanks for the advice. I'm rather mortified at falling for this, but a lot wiser now. (And I've double-checked all the accounts and am keeping an eye on them - thank the deities I did not give out any personal bank information.)
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 1:46 PM on February 17, 2011 [8 favorites]


"The American Embassy" could easily be the cell phone of the guy sitting next to R on the couch (who agreed to answer his phone "American Embassy, Italy"* for a week just in case). And The sergeant could be the guy sitting next to that guy.

The degree to which this could well be a scam that R is in on, or even orchestrating, implies to me that you have every reason to be pissed off about what happened and to resent R for coming to you for money. Definitely be pissed. Definitely hold R to any bargain you made.

*This, too, sounds sort of suspect to me - that's a weird way for a receptionist at an embassy to answer the phone. Even the fact that you could hear a lot of people in the background is strange.
posted by Sara C. at 1:47 PM on February 17, 2011


So sorry, OP. It's a particularly mean scam, preying on your care for your family like that. But at least R is okay.
posted by changeling at 1:49 PM on February 17, 2011


I don't think it much matters whether this was a scam or not (well I appreciate it's your money but ...) the fact is you did a decent thing in the circumstances you knew of. It was more decent because R is never going to on your "top 10 friends" list.
posted by southof40 at 1:50 PM on February 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


It looks like I am out that money, (thankfully I can eat it)

You're the victim and it's your choice, but you should consider pursuing this fucker because a) people do get their money back (even the Bernie Madoff victims) and b) they are going to keep on scamming people, some of whom will have much less money to spare.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 1:50 PM on February 17, 2011 [6 favorites]


All the more reason to not contact this side of the family.

To me, it sounds like more reason to contact that side of the family. Tell the whole family before the scam hurts anyone else, regardless of its source.
posted by grouse at 1:50 PM on February 17, 2011 [21 favorites]


Here is a link that outlines the duties of Marines at US Embassies.
There is nothing there about helping wayward travellers.
posted by Flood at 1:51 PM on February 17, 2011


You might want to check out this question, where someone pretended to be the OP and scammed his grandma. In that case the caller apparently sounded just like him. So I doubt R was involved. I would let the rest of the family know just so they don't give any money if they get similar calls!
posted by grapesaresour at 1:54 PM on February 17, 2011 [7 favorites]


All the more reason to not contact this side of the family.

Actually, it sounds like a very good reason to contact them and let them know that someone is using their relative's name and personal information to defraud family members.

Why do you think that you're the only victim?
posted by mr_roboto at 2:01 PM on February 17, 2011 [18 favorites]


I mean, R should know, at least. This has the definite potential to mess with R's life. You do realize that this scam is typically implemented without the participation of the mark's relative, right?
posted by mr_roboto at 2:06 PM on February 17, 2011 [4 favorites]


Report this to the relevant authorities!

Criminals get away with this stuff because folks like you don't step forward. Really.
posted by jbenben at 2:06 PM on February 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm honestly a bit suspicious that R. wasn't in on the whole thing (as I said, the person on the phone really DID sound like R). All the more reason to not contact this side of the family.

Why wouldn't you tell them that someone claiming to be R scammed you? Especially if you believe (on very flimsy evidence, I might add) that R is trying to scam relatives? You might at least save them from being caught by the same scam, and they don't have as much money to spare as you do -- something you've worked into the ask three times already.

The hostility toward that side of the family is bizarre, given that (1) the situation was not what you thought it was and (2) they had nothing to do with it even if R did, and that's looking less and less likely.

At this point, it sounds like you're just looking for justifications for not talking to your *sniff* middle-class relations.
posted by Marty Marx at 2:06 PM on February 17, 2011 [9 favorites]


From the OP:
I did report this to the FCC. And that I will call my relatives and inform them. (And to "marty marx:" I am not trying to disown my "middle class" relatives: we just were never close in the first place and *they* are not into contacting us, either, so it's a two-way street.)
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 2:25 PM on February 17, 2011


Why didn't you mention that this person sounded like R in your original question?

You said this,

the (very nice) staff sergeant at the embassy said that R was "crying and throwing up" at the prospect of telling their mother.


without any hint that you thought it sounded like R.
posted by jayder at 2:43 PM on February 17, 2011


This sounds exactly like a scam perpetrated on my dad. "Nephew" called, said he was in trouble in foreign country, was scared to talk to Dad, called Grandpa, could Grandpa please wire some money. Called the next day, needing more, and even told my dad which Western Union to use (different from the first WU in case the WU clerk remembered and asked questions). Since it worked so well, repeated it again with yet another WU a couple days later. Couple weeks later Grandpa asked Dad how son was doing and if he'd recovered from the experience. Dad was "WTF? Son hasn't left the country?" at which point the story passed around the family. And, as with your story about the call being from a SSgt, there were markers in the phone call that in later analysis clued us in to the fact that it definitely wasn't the nephew who made the call (in our family Dad is never called "Dad", for example). I seem to remember that US embassy staff don't use the term "American Embassy" because people in other countries on this continent are offended by that term, though I could be mistaken on that.
There is some level of sophistication in this scam, since they do know relationships between people (i.e., that R is related to you, nephew is related to grandad with different last names, etc.).
posted by Runes at 3:10 PM on February 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Are you sure R is OK? Has anyone talked to them? Someone got your contact info and faked their voice somehow and while abductions or shakedowns are pretty damn rare in Europe that seems very odd to me. Unless, like you said, they are in in it or its someone they talked to enough for the scammer to get that info. At the very least R may be stranded somewhere with no passport, phone or money.
posted by fshgrl at 3:12 PM on February 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


Seconding fshgrl. Not to be alarmist, but I've heard of travellers held captive for days so their abductors can milk as many ATM transactions out of them as possible—it's not unthinkable that a scam like this could go hand-on-hand with such a scenario. It couldn't hurt to make sure R's okay.
posted by hot soup girl at 7:53 PM on February 17, 2011


I'm honestly a bit suspicious that R. wasn't in on the whole thing (as I said, the person on the phone really DID sound like R)

When my grandmother was hit by a very similar scam she swore the person sounded just like her grandson. He wasn't involved in any way, however.

It's likely your auditory system anticipated/organized the voice according to your expectation of speaking with R. The scammer probably learned just enough about your fam to set those expectations.
posted by airing nerdy laundry at 10:16 PM on February 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


From the OP:
- It was, indeed, a scam.

- Police and FCC reports have been filed.

- Thankfully, the perps don't have any personal account information.

- Relatives have been informed. R and his mother are horrified, and feel bad for us. R was in the country working the whole time.

- I am mortified at having fallen for this scam. I know now to be ultra-careful, and to call around before panicking that a relative is in trouble. (I hope I am not too suspicious now to help if someone really IS in trouble, but oh well.)

- It was pretty sophisticated, as the perps knew that R was related to us despite all of us having different last names.

So, resolved!
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:05 AM on February 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm wondering how much of this could have been scoped out via facebook for people looking for good targets.
posted by BurnMage at 3:06 PM on February 18, 2011 [5 favorites]


« Older How export list of sent emails?   |   Astrowoman Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.