FWIW: This is a fast and personal anecdote.

This past Thursday morning, my brother’s mother-in-law, who is having serious health problems, received an early morning phone call from a young woman claiming she was her only granddaughter, with whom the mother-in-law had recently spent the Thanksgiving holiday. The voice excitedly explained she was in trouble and could Grandma and Grandpa rescue her? Her voice certainly did not sound to my brother’s mother-in-law like her granddaughter’s.

The young woman went on to claim she was calling from Montreal. My niece goes to college in California and her grandmother knew that is where she should be. The young woman emotionally related that she had been in a car accident and had damaged the rental car. In essence the message: Please, please, please Grandma, I don’t want to tell Mom and Dad … I only have $400 in my checking account right now. Could you, please, and Grandpa, wire me $2400 for the damages to the car?

How crazymaking for the grandmother. Again, it was not her granddaughter’s voice, but there was so much stress being conveyed. Could it be? It was surreal. The grandmother said she would get back to the girl, hung up and immediately called her daughter and my brother in another city. They assured her their daughter was safely at college and that they would contact the daughter as soon as possible.

My niece had already left for class, apparently, and had unfortunately turned off her cell phone. There was some uneasy time that passed for the grandparents and parents before she called back and assured them all she was safe and physically untouched by the malicious perpetrator(s) of the strange scam being played out. Everyone was relieved, in part, but also troubled by the identity theft attempt as well as some obvious degree of successful identity hacking.

Keep in mind, my niece’s grandparents do not share the same last name as her. MOST disturbingly, the part where the female grifter shares that she only has $400 left in her checking account, my brother revealed that that was the exact amount my niece DID have in her checking account! How did the scammer know that?

I don’t know how many answers, if any, they can untangle from this occurrence. In a way, it reminded me of the old movie Six Degrees of Separation with Will Smith. He is a grifter who solicits personal information about a group of college friends and then seduces and cons their parents. The parents trust him because he has intimate knowledge about their children and because of his charming persona. Also, why would a fellow human being go to such lengths to lie to another? Finally, in the case of the movie, the parents were titillated by the young man’s lie that he was the son of a celebrity. (I think my niece’s being at college triggered thoughts on that particular scam and movie.)

Dealing with another human being’s or human beings’ willingness and capacity to do harm — just that realization — is an emotional whammy. Our sense of safety is violated. Ripples of anxiety, dread and anger at the ruthlessness of a human predator sweep over us. Disturb our sense of equilibrium in the world. Our serenity.

The invasion of privacy is disturbing in this case. The angle of preying on an elderly grandparent’s bond with a beloved granddaughter seems particularly callous. The emotional and potential physical stress, even the risk of a heart attack, on the already physically challenged grandparent. Also, that chilling, crazymaking moment of having a sociopath claim something so cruel and preposterous, feigning she is a granddaugher. My brother’s mother-in-law had to struggle and question her own take on reality, even though she sensed it was, of course, not her granddaughter’s voice. Why and what kind of human animal would lie about something like that?

I don’t know what my brother and his family are doing for follow-up with this troubling attempted crime.

I suspect, sadly, with the serious economic pressure right now, the number of scam attempts on many of us everyday citizens will escalate.

I suppose in this particular case my family is lucky such malice only grazed our lives, made us all shiver and try to shake off the moment of threat, and did not, as far as we can determine, cause a more serious crisis.

Again, it was sobering (and still haunting) for me dealing with the capacity of evil of some one or ones among us so baldly and callously threatening the welfare of my loved ones.