Dear Zachary, Calvin, Hannah, and Tessa (Sally’s grandchildren)
“What is this world coming to?” That was Nana's angry question after yesterday's excitement at 3215 Topping Road. Here is what happened. About 12:30 pm Nana received a phone call from somebody asking for "Grandma." She said, "Yes? Who is this, Calvin?" (That is who she thought was calling, because we were expecting a call from Calvin.) The voice answered "Yes." "Calvin" (the voice) then explained that he and a friend traveling in a rental car in London Ontario were in a car accident. The car was totaled—it rolled over several times—but neither of them suffered any injuries.
The rental car owner was demanding $10,000 to settle the matter. “Calvin” said his friend agreed to pay half, and he, “Calvin,” was to pay the other half, $5000. He called asking if we could immediately send $5,000 plus an additional $200 to pay for a hotel room and trip home. The $5,200 should be sent to him at Walmart in London Ontario through what is called a “moneygram.” Nana would need to deliver the $5200 to the Walmart moneygram office and would be given a referral number. “Calvin” said he would call back later to get the referral number so that he could pick up the $5,200 at the nearby Walmart store.
Nana agreed but said it might take a couple of hours to send the money. She would have to go to the bank and then to a doctor’s appointment. “Calvin” said he would call back at about 2:30 pm.
When I arrived home at 2:15 pm, I found a note Nana had left. It summarized the phone call, adding that she withdrew $5,200 from the bank but left it in the house rather than carrying it to her doctor’s appointment. She hoped I could go with her to Walmart after she returned home. She also said “Calvin” would be calling about 2:30 pm. No call came.
Nana arrived home at 3 pm, and told me more about the phone call. I said it was odd that Calvin had not called back. I asked about any injuries to “Calvin” and his friend. Nana had no details. This too struck me as odd. I then began wondering about insurance, whether Calvin’s car insurance would cover the accident. If so, the insurance company could handle the matter. Meanwhile, Nana remembered that Calvin ordinarily referred to her as “Nana,” not “Grandma.” And I wondered what Calvin was doing in Ontario—he should be attending his classes at Bradley University in Illinois.
I then phoned our insurance agent. She explained that Calvin’s insurance would cover the accident even if it occurred in Canada. But she suggested I phone Calvin to verify that he made the call and had been in the accident. She mentioned having just read a newspaper story that morning a report on someone who got a similar phone call.
I then phoned Calvin to ask about the accident—how he was and whether the car was totaled. He said, "Grandpa, what are you talking about, I am in a class here at Bradley. I've never been to Canada!" After I told him about the phone call, Calvin said this was one of those scams he had heard about, and that we should not send the money. Yes, this was one of those telephone scams.
I phoned the Shorewood police who arrived and took down the information. Before they arrived, the phone rang again with the voice asking for “Grandma.” I said she was not back. When would she return? I said in an hour or so. While we were explaining the story to one police officer, the other was checking with the sheriff’s office. That office had already that day received 20 complaints about similar phone calls.
Remembering what our insurance agent said, I checked the morning newspaper and reread the headline, “Man loses nearly $20,000 in scam.” (Wisconsin State Journal, September 9, 2008). It described how an elderly local man had gotten a similar phone call about a car accident involving his grandson in Canada. He responded by forwarding the $20,000. Of course, he now realized he was duped.
What explains Nana’s response? In retrospect, she reacted as any grandmother would after receiving “Calvin’s” phone call. Even though she tried to get more details, the caller deflected them by emphasizing the need for quick action. Fortunately, Nana's doctor appointment slowed down the process of responding to the phone call. And by chance I happened to arrive home before Sally drove to Walmart to send off the money. What luck!
Love, Grandpa Hansen
About the Author
At age 92 I decided to showcase my recent and current writings on a variety of topics outside of my career interests as an economist. My wife Sally’s dementia, my experiences of war, and my interests in improving higher education all compel me to write.
For most of the last decade I maintained a low profile, necessitated by my wife Sally's suffering from a decade-long siege of vascular dementia. After she passed away several years ago I wrote about our experience, in the belief that this would be helpful to the many others who suffer from dementia and their family caregivers. I am currently seeking a publisher for my book manuscript: The Forgotten: Dementia and the Right to Die.
Over the past few years I began working on several other writing projects that are described more fully elsewhere in my blog. These include a nearly-completed book manuscript on my "expected proficiencies approach to the college major'' as a vehicle for reinvigorating liberal education. I continue to write on the shortcomings of UW-Madison's affirmative action policies and programs that over the years have been renamed "diversity and inclusion" policies and programs.
Within two weeks of my graduation from UW-Madison in June 1950, the Korean War broke out. I was drafted and expected to be sent to Korea to join our fighting forces there. But instead I was sent to Turkey for 18 months. How lucky I was. I am also writing a memoir of my Korean War military experience when I served as an U.S. Army adviser in our military aid program in Turkey.
Until I began branching out beyond economics, I failed to realize what a profound effect the Great Depression and World War II had on me as I grew up. I have already captured some of these recollections, with more of them to follow.
With that introduction, I turn you over to my blog entries as well as my other writing projects described more fully elsewhere in my blog. Best wishes ~ W. Lee Hansen
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Award-winning author W. Lee Hansen, Ph.D. is Professor Emeritus of Economics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Full bio.