DETROIT – When we see the elderly, we think of our parents and grandparents, aging folks who may need a little help now and then.
When criminals see the elderly, they see potential targets whose bank accounts can be cleared out with a single phone call.
Richard Alexander never thought it would happen to him, but it did.
"I think that this is the only reason that I'm going through this. Maybe I can teach somebody else from getting stung like I did," Alexander told the Local 4 Defenders.
Alexander said he got a phone call one day that he thought was an emergency plea for help from his grandson. He recorded it.
Caller: "I got myself into a bit of trouble last night. I got into a car accident."
Alexander: "I see."
Caller: "I'm OK, I'm OK. I just have a broken nose. That's all. It's not really broken, I just cracked it. I've been in a holding cell all night. I finally spoke to a lawyer, a public defender, earlier. He told me he could get me out in about two hours, but I need a bail to be paid. I'm asking you if I can count on you. They told me my bail would be somewhere between one and two thousand dollars. And grandpa, I can pay you right back as soon as I get out of here. I'll wire you the money."
What would you do if a relative called from jail asking for help? Alexander said it wasn't about the money to him, it was about getting his grandson out. His first instinct was to call the boy's mother. But the caller warned him against that.
Caller: "I'm embarrassed about this. I didn't really want the rest of the family to know about this and I know how angry and disappointed mom's going to be. So, I want to tell her in person. I can't hide a broken nose. So, I am going to tell her. I just don't want to tell her over the phone from a holding cell."
Alexander decided to pay the bail.
"The biggest convincing thing was that if we wired the money early enough and he would serve his time, it would be expunged from his record as DUI. That as important because being a young man at 22 or 23 years old, it's not good to have that on your record."
Caller: "OK. Now I'm going to have the lawyer call you in about 10 minutes. He's going to say to you exactly what you need to do to help."
But it wasn't Alexander's grandson and the next caller was a co-conspirator who explained how to wire money. Alexander said he started having second thoughts almost immediately after the money had been sent.
"Well, they play on your sympathies to protect your own, your own family. You'd do anything for the family," he said. "If I would've been more sensible, I would've questioned a few things, but when somebody's making a call from the lockup, you don't make it a social call. I wanted to expedite whatever it took to get him out of there."
His advice for others? Take a deep breath when you answer the phone so you can pay attention to who is really on the other end, and create a secret code word with your family that they can use if they ever really are in trouble.
"My guard was really down at the time, not realizing that you've got to keep your guard up all the time, especially when they ask for money," Alexander said.