It’s terrifying to think of loved ones getting into car accidents, but it’s even more terrifying when people use the prospect of a car accident to lure family members into a money scam.
That’s exactly what happened to a grandma, Kathleen Walsh, and her granddaughter Lily Kalanquin. The two were subjected to a money scam involving a car crash, a convincing story and crucial information the scammers had to know.
Walsh lives alone in Toledo and has four granddaughters, Kalanquin, a sophomore at the University of Cincinnati, being the youngest. One day, while Walsh was home alone, she received a call from what sounded like Kalanquin, claiming she had been in an accident.
“I picked up the phone and the girl said ‘Grandma, I was in an accident and I broke my nose, and I was cited for being at fault,’” Walsh said. “It was a young girl, who was supposed to be Lily, I think. There was all kinds of static and road noise, and she had a weak voice, so I couldn’t hear her very well.”
The girl posing as Walsh’s granddaughter told Walsh she lost her phone in the accident and was in a lot of pain. She kept talking quickly, and the girl asked if Walsh wanted to talk to her lawyer.
“I’m thinking, ‘she got a lawyer? Why wouldn’t there be a policeman or something there; why would there be a lawyer?’ It was all very strange to me,” Walsh said. “But I said yes, (I’ll talk to) anyone else, because I couldn’t hear her, and then they put this man on, and all of the sudden the background noise seemed to subside.”
She was skeptical of the lawyer but talked to him nonetheless. Walsh asked what she needed to do to help her granddaughter, and he told her she needed to get her credit card.
Immediately, a light went off in Walsh’s brain indicating the signs of a scam, and she confronted the man about it. When he tried to explain it again, she confronted him for a second time telling him she believed the call to be a scam. After the second time, the man hung up the phone.
“He wanted money for a medical bill or something, like he wanted me to send it to the ‘hospital,’ but that triggered me right away,” Walsh said.
As soon as the phone hung up, Walsh immediately called Kalanquin to make sure she was OK, and, sure enough, Kalanquin was babysitting, safe and sound.
Walsh had gotten scam calls before regarding income tax and people trying to sell different products but never something as targeted as an impersonator.
Kalanquin mentioned how alarming it was the scammers knew her voice. Both she and Walsh are unsure as to whether or not the voice on the call was a sample of Kalanquin’s voice taken from someone hacking into her phone and then using voice editing software or just someone who had a similar voice.
“You just take it to another level when you involve other people in the scam,” Kalanquin said. “It’s just scary and traumatic. It’s not something you can just hang up and brush off like other scams because what if this one is actually real?”
When Walsh explained to Kalanquin what had happened on the phone call, Kalanquin knew she had heard of the same situation somewhere before. The same scam was described in multiple viral Twitter posts.
“I was on my phone scrolling through Twitter, and even though I had seen the trend multiple times before, it popped up in my timeline literally that day, like right before my grandma called me,” Kalanquin said. “And I was thinking, this is so weird. You never hear about this stuff happening to people you actually know or here in Toledo because it’s such a safe place, but then I got the call.”
Kalanquin was happy her grandma didn’t fall for the scam but keeps asking herself why they were targeted in the first place.
“I was on edge for a bit after because I felt a little watched,” Kalanquin said. “I kept thinking, why is it happening to me instead of my other friends or someone in a different place? Or why didn’t it even happen to one of my sisters? Why did they choose me?”
Walsh and Kalanquin both speculate the reason behind the scam being Walsh’s age and her living situation. Older generations are constantly being targeted with these types of scams.
“They’re more gullible, and they’re home and more available,” Walsh said. “They have all the criteria that scammers look for. I think it’s cruel. I’ve seen similar scamming situations on television where people have lost a lot of money, and it’s just sad.”
Kalanquin and Walsh both advise people who are subjected to these scams to ask more specific questions, like where the event is taking place or who the officer is in the situation. They also advise asking confirmation questions, like what the car looks like, to determine whether or not the call is real.
In the end, Kalanquin and Walsh were happy they were both OK, and no one was hurt or scammed in the process.
“I’d heard similar scams on television and from Lily, but in the moment, I was just focused on making sure my granddaughter was OK,” Walsh said.
Illustration by Riley Scott.