Accused of a know the rest
January 7, 2007 3:34 PM   Subscribe

My grandfather stands accused of a crime he did not comit. He got a phone call from the police last week: "Mr Anonymous? You're on our wanted list for a shoplifting from $UK_SHOP in $UK_CITY. I don't want to come to your house to arrest you, but we need you to come in and talk to us in a week's time."

"But that's absolutely mad! When was this crime supposed to have happened?"

"We can't say. Have you ever been arrested before?"

"No, of course not! Can't I come in now, to clear my name?"

"No. I'm only available in a week's time."

My interpretation of all this is that it seems like someone stole from this shop while my grandfather was there, and that they've used the CCTV and credit card records to trace (all the customers in store at the time / him).

But why would they use words like "wanted list" and "arrest" - when surely all they should be saying is "we want to eliminate you from our enquiries" like they are reported as saying on the news? This is a huge cloud hanging over my grandfather's head!

Can anyone make any sense of this, or offer any alternative interpretations on why they might think he's done this?
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (40 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Sounds SUPER sketchy. Mr Anonymous? Did the officer/department identify themselves?

Call them back (the police department) and ask if its legit.

If this was in the USA, I would say have at it. I don't think a recept and CCTV that doesnt show anything occuring would be enough in the USA for an arrest warrant.
posted by SirStan at 3:42 PM on January 7, 2007

This sounds like a humongous scam. Your grandfather should give all the details he can to his local police department. And he definitely should not go anywhere to speak to his suprise caller about his supposed shoplifting.

On the surface of it, it seems like it might be an identity theft thing. Too much of that going on nowadays and you can't be too careful.
posted by brain cloud at 3:47 PM on January 7, 2007

Another vote for checking it with the police department. It shouldn't be too big of a deal for them to confirm that Detective Such-and-such wants to meet with him. The use of "arrest" is a bit weird, probably meant in the "detain you for questionning" vein, if it was a real cop.

If it's a scam, I don't see how it could be identity theft. He was asked to 'come in' (ie, to the station). It'd be hard for an ID thief to be milling around in the interview rooms. If it's not legit, I'd think it would be more to get him out of the house for convenient burgling.

If it's legit, it could be that the shop noticed something missing and your grandfather was seen around that section, doing something that looks shoplift-y (reaching in and out of his coat, maybe with his back to the camera).

SirStan, I'm pretty sure "Mr Anonymous" was used to protect the poster's / poster's-granddad's good name and such.
posted by CKmtl at 4:02 PM on January 7, 2007

Ditto on the scam suspicion. Your grandfather should walk into his local police station ASAP and tell the officer on duty everything. If it's actually police business, they'll handle it, and if not... well, that's what cops are for.
posted by Faint of Butt at 4:02 PM on January 7, 2007

Call a solicitor. He or she will know exactly what to do. The solicitor will contact the police on your behalf directly.
posted by Ironmouth at 4:04 PM on January 7, 2007

The police usually come to your front door.
posted by fire&wings at 4:09 PM on January 7, 2007

If this was me I'd tell them to p1ss off unless they were going to arrest me - one is under no obligation under UK law to speak to them or meet with them otherwise (IANAL!). Seems like, assuming this is actually the police, that they've not got enough evidence to do so, or they would have done so.

If your father wants a definite resolution to the issue, ring up the police constabulary in question and ask to speak to a senior officer about the allegations. Complain about the ridiculous and offensive way this has been handled. Ask to make a formal complaint.

You could also get your dad's MP involved - who's office should be able to turn up the heat on the constabulary - or indeed it might make a nice local news story. If the police are going to be an arse to you I see no problem in being one right back at them.
posted by prentiz at 4:16 PM on January 7, 2007

If it's a scam, I don't see how it could be identity theft.

I can.

They could ask him to come into a location that isn't a police/constable station but some faked 'detective' office.

They could ask the poster's grandfather to supply personal ID and credit cards to "rule him out as a suspect" while copying down the pertinent details of all.

They could get his signatures on papers, releases, etc which are bogus.

Maybe I'm just a very paranoid person, though.
posted by brain cloud at 4:23 PM on January 7, 2007

Imagine this scenario: "Mr. SoAndSo, we know where you live since we're talking to you right now, so how about you make breaking into your house easier by leaving it at exactly such and such date and time. It's an offer your curiosity cannot refuse! (fear! police! crime! fear!). See you soon!"
posted by furtive at 4:26 PM on January 7, 2007

furtive's is good, too.

Any way you slice this, it doesn't seem the least bit legitimate. Contact authorities ASAP.
posted by brain cloud at 4:31 PM on January 7, 2007

I was accused of theft once. I wasn't given a week to get ready to come and talk to the cops. I got a knock on my door at the ass crack of dawn and detective's business cards left with my acquaintances until the matter was cleared up.

In short, the real cops ain't this considerate.
posted by EatTheWeek at 4:34 PM on January 7, 2007

This seems like a gross abuse of authority to me, if it is actually being done by the authorities.

I would be very tempted to assert in loud tones that I have committed no crime, and that if the investigator chooses to waste his time and the public's money making the blunder of arresting me, that is entirely his responsibility, but in that event, I too will be compiling a list; a list of police officials so incompetent as to constitute a danger to the public and who ought to be removed from service as soon as possible, and that list will be composed of his name solely, and that I will do my best to be sure that everyone in the police hierarchy sees my list and pays proper attention to it, and that then I will be making the rounds of the media.
posted by jamjam at 4:35 PM on January 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

There's no way the cops politely call up and ask someone to come see them in a while. They want you, they come get you. Also, what sort of investigator timetables his time a week in advance? Who knows what case he's on then -- that's why they come to you!

Easy to fix though: look the cops up in the phone book and call em. If somebody's impersonating the police, they're going to be really interested.
posted by bonaldi at 4:48 PM on January 7, 2007

Call your local police. This sounds horribly suspicious! If they want you, they come by for a visit. Not a phone call for a meeting in a week?? In addition, it's your grandfather. The elderly are often targeted in scams.
posted by defcom1 at 5:27 PM on January 7, 2007

Oh god. If this is a scam (which it must be) you really ought to tell your grandfather's local newspaper, as I'm sure he's not the only one to have got this call.
posted by randomination at 5:30 PM on January 7, 2007

brain_cloud: To me, setting up a (convincing) fake police station is a really weird way to get people's personal information. Then again, I'm assuming crooks are smart and/or efficiency-minded.

It's too bad a follow-up can't be posted under anonymous... Perhaps the OP can post something, if it turns out to have been a fishy operation or if the allegations are quickly cleared.
posted by CKmtl at 5:40 PM on January 7, 2007

Is it at all possible he misunderstood their request?

I know that if I got a call from a police officer about a crime I would be rattled and might mistake 'we need you to come talk to us about a crime you possibly may have witnessed' for 'you are a suspect'.
posted by winna at 5:42 PM on January 7, 2007

It's a scam. Call the police.

Real police come to you.

Fake ones call old people, let them stew a week to get good and nervous, and then get them to come down to some "office", provide all their credit cards, ID, etc.
posted by jellicle at 5:43 PM on January 7, 2007

brain cloud has it.
posted by empath at 5:55 PM on January 7, 2007

He should talk to a solicitor before talking to the local police, on the off-chance that the call came from actual police on some sort of fishing expedition for any convenient convictable face.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:55 PM on January 7, 2007

If it is the 'real' police, then it is possible that they could be just scouting for more evidence, and not caring whose toes they trample on to get it.

I found myself in a similar situation once. I had an officer ring me about a crime I too was in the vicinity of, but had absolutely nothing to do with. He asked a few questions, presumably just to gauge my answers, said he would be in touch... and never called back. He gave me a fright.. even though he had no evidence I did anything wrong.

Unless you are physically summoned or called to a police station - then i wouldn't worry about it. If they ring again, and sound evasive, then just hang up - even if it is the real police you do not have to answer questions. If the police want answers they will come to you.
posted by TheOtherGuy at 5:58 PM on January 7, 2007

For what it's worth, I have been called by the police and 'invited' for interview after a road traffic accident. We arranged a time for me to come down the local police station and talk to them, to give a statement. Admittedly, I had been in a road traffic accident, and they did give their name, police station and information about the accident so I had no reason to suspect it wasn't legit, and I was in a multi-person rent anyway. As it happened, the police did try to stitch me up that day at the interview, but it was a legitimate phone call.

Assuming this is a legit call by the coppers for interview, advise your grandfather to not say a word in an official taped interview without a solicitor present - he's legally entitled to have a solicitor present during any questioning, but it's probably best to get one of his own first. If he gets accused of anything, he can probably claim it on legal aid if he's of limited means. IANAL, obviously.

I'd still get him to call the police station involved and confirm the officer's name and the time of the interview - just in case.
posted by ArkhanJG at 6:03 PM on January 7, 2007

Assuming again that it's legit - and it may well not be - it is entirely possible the police are inviting him down the station for an interview/interrogation, but if he doesn't go down voluntarily, they're threatening to arrest him. They obviously don't consider him a flight risk, or a violent offender as indeed the jam-butties would already be parked outside the door. It is possible your granddad slightly misunderstood the officer on the phone, and they want to question him, but they don't want to arrest him as he's only a witness.

That said, they may have him as a suspect, and want him to trip up on his own words. You'd be amazed how many people are prosecuted on the strength of their own interview statements - maybe the week delay is a way to put pressure on him and make him sweat, under the impression that the guilt is eating away at him?

Ultimately though, if he doesn't want to go, then he can just call them back, and tell them of that. If they really want to talk to him, they'll come knock on the door. Makes more sense to go down under his own steam though.
posted by ArkhanJG at 6:19 PM on January 7, 2007

After he verifies the legitimacy of the call, he should call a lawyer, and have bail money ready, and someone ready to bail him out.

A friend-of-a-friend had something a bit similar happen to him; he got some kind of thing in the mail about some kind of subpoena or something, and he called the police. They said "oh yeah, you should come in, and we can clear that little thing up." When he showed up, they arrested him, as his gf had accused him of domestic abuse. He, of course, didn't have bail money or someone handy to bail him out, so he had to go with a usurer.

Anyway, it seems odd, if they're trying to gently coax him into showing up at the police station, they would use threats, but it could be a similar tactic. I would have a contingency plan for him being suspect #1, for either the stated crime, or a different one, unless there is a reason not to.
posted by blenderfish at 7:11 PM on January 7, 2007

In general, if the police want to question you (even about something you may have seen,) they don't wait a week for your memory to get fuzzy. They certainly don't tell you that they will be questioning you in a week. That gives your mind too much time to misremember things, especially now that you can't help thinking about it.

So while they may ask politely for you to come to them, they wouldn't give you a week voluntarily.

Furthermore, shoplifting? Unlikely. Stores write that off as inventory shrinkage. They'll try to prevent it in-store, but once the criminal is out the door, it isn't worth wasting the police force's time.

I Nth the scam vote. Call the cops and report it, but you probably will never hear back from the mystery caller - the scam already didn't work. Though it would be interesting to agree to the meeting, and have one cop go to the meeting, and one stay at your house. Just to see what happens.
posted by ctmf at 7:47 PM on January 7, 2007

But then again, why assume the worst right away? Does he have any "funny" friends, throwing him a surprise party?
posted by ctmf at 7:50 PM on January 7, 2007

The event described is nowhere near police SOP and I think it is extremely unlikely that the call came from a police officer. At the very least they would have identified themselves as D.C. X from copshop Y.
This sounds suspicously like the the first move of a scam.Do you really think there would be this much faffing about for a shoplifting case?
I would suggest you and grandad present yourselves at your local police station tomorrow and explain the situation.They will take it from there.
posted by Dr.Pill at 8:01 PM on January 7, 2007

[cue Monty Python music]

scam, scam, scam, scam ...
posted by sacre_bleu at 11:57 PM on January 7, 2007

If the officer did not identify himself during the call it is an obvious scam. If the officer gave a name and a precint call them back through the precint and get more information.
posted by JJ86 at 5:31 AM on January 8, 2007

I smell scam, too. Wouldn't the actual police know if he'd ever been arrested before?
posted by desuetude at 5:44 AM on January 8, 2007

Also, please email Jessamyn or Matt with an update!
posted by bonaldi at 6:29 AM on January 8, 2007

This has got to be a scam. I'd call the police on them.
posted by chunking express at 7:12 AM on January 8, 2007

Apparently, as I have gleaned from reading this website , this is standard operating procedure for at least some of the police in the UK with respect to this kind of crime. So it may very well be legit in that sense.
posted by Dolukhanova at 7:29 AM on January 8, 2007

hmmm, let's try that again: this website :
posted by Dolukhanova at 7:30 AM on January 8, 2007

get in touch with the shop
posted by baker dave at 8:36 AM on January 8, 2007

Tell him ok, he'll come to THEM when they want. Get all the details, then go to the police and tell them what occurred. Have them accompany you or check it out and bust the fakers. Sounds very sketchy.
posted by PetiePal at 8:43 AM on January 8, 2007

I'm concerned he'll go to the meeting at the specified time on the specified day only to return home to find his house entirely cleaned out by theives.
posted by goml at 9:40 AM on January 8, 2007

This also sounds like a scam to me. Did the police officer give your grandfather his name and phone number, something he could call up the station with to check this is a real detective? If not, doubly suspicious. The use of language like "arrest" is being used to scare your grandfather. No police officer calls someone, freaks them out, and then says that they're not available for a week. They clear things up immediately and move on. Your grandfather should, as others have correctly said, call the police from the number in the phone book and report this. If it's legit and not a scam, he should complain about his treatment and demand to clear things up immediately. Either way, if he hasn't done anything wrong, he shouldn't worry.

Also, what total bullshit evidence. They determined that he was in the store at the time from a credit card receipt? You know what, this "evidence" alone says they're either not cops, or the world's worst cops. Who steals something from a store while simulateously making a traceable purchase? Cops don't go around threatening everyone who they can trace to a store at a particular time of day. How do they know when the item was stolen? Do they have tape? If so, they have tape of the robber. If not, then they're out of luck. This method of investigation would seem to ignore everyone who bought items with cash or who didn't buy anything at all. In other words, it ignores any real theives. This is not a real investigative method. If some cop I was supervising suggested this as a method of finding a thief, and the item being stolen was anything less valuable than the Crown Jewels, I would fire him for devising a hugely wasteful and offensive strategy.
posted by Dasein at 3:59 PM on January 8, 2007

What goml said. Call your local police now, use the non-emergency number.
posted by deborah at 4:01 PM on January 8, 2007

from the original poster, a followup:
The follow up to this post is that my grandfather went to see the police at his own expense, but thanks to the messages urging caution here, I decided to engage a solicitor to go with him (thankfully, provided free by the UK government). The police arrested him and flung him into a cell, knowing all the while that he wasn't the man they were after because he simple did not match the photograph they had based their accusation on. They could see this from the moment they laid eyes on him. After taking DNA samples, fingerprints and photographs, they released my grandfather without an apology and blamed the store. My grandfather wrote to the store to complain about the experience, and they reasonably and plausibly replied that the police had made the decision he was the culprit, all they had done was call the police and show them the logs and the tapes. He's shaken, but at least he's not wrongfully gaoled.
posted by mathowie at 10:48 AM on February 7, 2007

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