The grandmother of professional lacrosse player James Barclay has always been wary about scams.
After her husband was scammed in the past, she thought she would be able to catch on if someone was trying to defraud her. “I thought it would never happen to us again,” the woman said.
But it turned out she was wrong.
Last week, the 87-year-old woman and her husband were targeted by someone pretending to be their grandson, asking them for money for bail.
The Oakville couple is just one of the many grandparents in the Greater Toronto Area who have been preyed on by those whose modus operandi is to use elderly people’s affection and love for their grandchildren to defraud thousands of dollars from them.
Several police services in the region have warned about a rise in grandparent scams, sometimes called “emergency scams,” this year. In York Region, police said between Aug. 4 and Aug 11, 13 incidents were reported that resulted in a loss of more than $50,000.
While police services have made arrests in connection with the scam, those involved in the scheme appear undeterred.
Speaking to CP24.com on condition of anonymity, Barclay’s grandmother described in detail how scammers were able to trick her and her husband into giving up $10,000 in cash.
It happened on Aug. 22. She got a call from an unknown number that Monday morning. The 87-year-old woman said something felt weird as soon as she answered the phone because of how the person on the other line greeted her.
The greeting left the 87-year-old puzzled. Her eight grandchildren never referred to her as “grandma.” She noted that they’ve always called her “nan” or “nanny.”
“I was highly suspect,” she said. When she asked the man who he was, the man claimed to be her grandson. Still suspicious, the woman said she told the man that he did not sound like her grandson.
She recalled the man, who will be referred to as fake James in the story, making an excuse about getting a throat swab for a COVID-19 test, so that’s why his voice was a bit different.
While the woman was still not entirely convinced, she gave the phone to her husband as instructed by fake James. The woman stayed by her husband’s side to see what the man wanted.
Fake James, the woman recounted, then told them that he and his friend named Steven were driving when they were pulled over by police and arrested for the “huge amount” of marijuana found in their car.
He subsequently asked them to send the $10,000 needed for bail, the woman said.
“We both nearly passed out,” she said, adding that fake James requested that the cash be sent before the end of that day.
“He said, ‘if I don’t (give) it by a certain time this evening, they’ll have no choice but to book me. Once I’m booked, it’s open for the world to see,'” the woman recalled.
At that moment, all the couple could think about was their grandson’s future.
“James is a professional sportsman, and he’s got an amazing job. The last thing we wanted was James’ name to appear in the papers having been involved in drugs,” the woman said.
Barclay plays in the National Lacrosse League (Las Vegas Desert Dogs) and the Premier Lacrosse League (Whipsnakes Lacrosse Club).
“So we simply did what we could,” she said, even though, at that moment, they had no idea where to get the money. The woman added that fake James also warned them not to tell anyone else about the situation or he would get into further trouble.
With no source of cash, the 87-year-old said she decided to take her jewelry and other items she inherited to Oliver Jewellery. She remembered being handed $10,000 – all in $100 bills.
“I kept my engagement ring and my wedding ring. I took everything I was wearing — everything — and handed it over,” she said.
After getting the money, the woman said they received instructions on where to place it. They were told to tuck the cash on the centre page of a magazine, seal it, and put it inside a white envelope with her husband’s name along with the name of the judge and the case number – all of which were made up by the scammers.
They were then told that an officer of the court would come to their home to pick up the money, which did not sit well with them. She recounted that she and her husband insisted on delivering the money so they could see their grandson, but the scammers were adamant, making excuses like the courthouse was a two-hour drive.
She said fake James then assured them that they could trust the person who would pick up the money. The woman said she was getting more skeptical, but all she could think about at that moment was her grandson.
“At the back of my mind, what is my choice? Don’t give the money and James’s life is ruined forever. Give the money and maybe it’s wrong but isn’t it better that at least James is okay,” she said, looking back at her decision.
“To have started a career and doing so well in everything he does and have that just destroyed overnight would have been horrific. So, the choice was there was no choice.”
A short time later, a man, whom the woman described as wearing a nicely fitted, neat hoodie and a mask, arrived at their home to collect the $10,000. Feeling that something was not right, the woman said she blurted: “I think this is a scam.”
She said the man denied it as expected. In the end, ensuring her grandson’s safety prevailed over her doubts and inklings, so she handed the cash over.
Before leaving, the man informed her that fake James would call her in a few minutes. After 25 minutes without a word, the woman dialled her grandson’s number to ensure he was out.
But, instead of relief, she would soon find out that her suspicions were correct.
The real James Barclay was finishing work when his grandmother called that Monday afternoon. In addition to being a professional lacrosse player, Barclay also works as an account executive at a software company.
“I answered the phone and immediately she asked me, ‘James like, are you alright?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, I’m doing fine. Why? What’s happening?'” Barclay told CP24.com, recalling his conversation with his grandmother. “She’s like, ‘Are you in jail?'”
Barclay answered: “No, I’m not in jail.” At that moment, he said his grandmother immediately realized what had happened.
She had been scammed.
As she was recounting what transpired to him, the scammers called his grandmother and thanked her for the money.
Barclay said his grandmother put that call on speaker so he could listen to them. He recorded a portion of the call when his upset grandmother confronted the scammer.
Scammer/Fake James (FJ): This is James. Thank you so much.
Barclay’s grandmother (BG): You don’t sound like James.
FJ: What do you mean?
BG: What’s your second name? James who?
FJ: What?! What do you mean?
BG: Well, I want to know your full name.
FJ: Are you okay?
FJ: What’s wrong?
BG: Well, tell me your full name, James.
FJ: You know my full name.
BG: I’m asking you your full name
FJ: I can’t…What? I can’t hear you.
BG: I want your full name, James.
FJ: Can I call you back in a few minutes and I’ll give you everything?
BG: No! You should know your full name.
FJ: Yes, but I can’t hear what you are saying. Can I call you back in 10 minutes, please?
BG: Well, it doesn’t matter if you can’t… You can hear me. You can hear me talking. I am asking you what is your name.
Frustrated with the scammer, Barclay’s grandmother cut the call.
“I just felt such an idiot,” the woman said. She believes the people responsible for the scam were the same people who called her a few days prior.
The woman recalled getting a call three days before the incident from someone offering to check her furnace. She said she was asked if she was over 80 years old. She found it weird but took the offer and made an appointment. But no one ever came.
“It’s bothering me now that I was so darn stupid,” the woman said.
The scam has been reported to Halton Regional Police. CP24 has reached out to Halton police to get an update on the case.
As for the jewelry, Barclay said the family was able to get it back from the shop. He added that he is still stunned about what occurred to his grandparents.
“I can’t believe they have the audacity to do something like that in the first place and like the risk involved on their end. I’m just happy to know that my grandparents weren’t hurt in any way,” he said, adding his grandparents did not deserve to go through such a traumatic experience.
“To lose the money is the one thing, but I think she’s very proud, and she is very alert and witty and smart,” Barclay said. “She’s really upset with herself and just kind of down on herself that this happened.”
He said a little part of him feels guilty about what happened because his identity was used to fool his grandparents.
“It’s gross,” Barclay said. “Like, I can’t believe I was listening to the guy pretending to be me on the phone.”
Barclay and his grandmother hope that by sharing their experience that it does not happen to others.
As for her advice, Barclay’s grandmother said: “That if anybody phones saying it’s their grandson, ask them immediately to tell their full name.”
She believes the scammers would not have been able to carry on with their plan because they didn’t know her grandson’s full name.
“You’ve got to ask questions.”