Herman Freymiller usually only answers the phone if he recognizes the number. But last Monday he says he was working in his study when a call came in on a line that doesn't have caller ID. He decided to pick it up this one time.
"When they came on, they said, hi Grandpa, this is Ian, my grandson," Freymiller said. He believed he was talking to his grandson, Ian, who told him he was in Green Bay with friends, and had gotten into a crash with another car and was cited for an OWI. Ian asked his grandpa not to tell his parents.
"He then turned me over to this bogus guy who was supposed to be a court-appointed attorney," Freymiller said. "This attorney said they needed to have $2,181 for the damages."
Convinced his grandson would be in more trouble if he didn't help, the Madison man headed to Walmart and wired the money. He was told to send it to Haiti, where the made up occupants of the other car were supposedly from.
"Any situation that invovles wiring money should be considered a red flag because once that money is wired, it's gone," said Michelle Reinen, the director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection. "There will be minimal chances that it can be recovered."
Reinen says this is a classic case of the so-called "Grandparents Scam." In 2011 alone, the Federal Trade Commission received more than 25,000 complaints about elderly Americans who had been targeted for more than $110 million. It's a popular scam, and one that's convincing.
"They often tell you, don't call, don't tell my family member, don't tell Mom and Dad," Reinen said. "Please just help me, I'm too embarrassed by this."
Freymiller says he fell for it not once, but twice, and almost a third time.
"I don't consider myself a gullible person," he said. "But everything was so convincing."
After the original call, Freymiller received two more requests for money from the fake attorney. He wired $2,000 again, and was about to wire another $2,000.
"Well that's when this all started to unfold," Freymiller said. "I went to Walmart again for the third time and I showed them the first two and the person at the service desk absolutely refused to send anymore money. She said, this is a scam."
Freymiller says he immediately filed a police report and called his grandson's mom, to make sure everything was OK with Ian. He doesn't know if he'll ever get back the $4,200 he lost.
"If I can save one individual from being milked on a scam like this, I will feel I've been rewarded," Freymiller said.
Reinen advises to also ask a lot of specific questions if you ever receive a similar call. Often times the scammers will have done research ahead of time about the person they are trying to imposter. She says the best thing to do is first call Consumer Protection before taking any action. If you are scammed, do what Freymiller did and file a police report.