Knoxville, Tennessee: Today I am en route to Oregon. Unsurprisingly my flight is late and I am trying to grin and bear the joyless experience of air travel in the US. That’s the real reason why I’m cycling coast-to-coast: so I don’t have to fly domestically. Despite the present delay I still have faith that I, and my bag, will arrive tonight in Portland. My cousin from Atlanta and my bike are already there.
The past three days have revolved around the two F’s — Family and Food — and both have been in abundance. It’s been nonstop activity with my immediate and extended family — my folks, my brother, his girl friend, my grandmother, and lots of aunts and uncles and cousins. The family keeps breeding and growing.
The concentration of relatives was accompanied by an even greater concentration of food, starting with hearty Southern breakfasts of home-made biscuits and sausage gravy made each morning. My grandmother was intent on fattening me up for the big ride. Through a succession of cakes, pies, pot roasts, steaks, cornbread, and vegetables from the garden, she and some accomplices achieved their goal. Everything was home-made, including the breads and jams, and almost all the vegetables and fruits were grown locally, some right out of the garden. Until now I never fully appreciated my family’s artisanal southern cooking. It may not be the healthiest food, and I feel my arteries already tightening, but it sure is tasty.
I also rediscovered upper East Tennessee’s natural beauty. This was my first visit to the region during summer in well over a decade, and I really enjoyed the greenness and the cleanliness of the rolling hills and mountains. It was good to return to my Southern roots and go native.
We made various family outings, including visits to a state park and an obligatory trip to Wal Mart. But mainly we just spent time out on the patios, sipping ice tea, enjoying the extended daylight, and watching my son marvel at the bugs, especially lightning bugs. How Southern. Many familiar and funny family stories were retold, from the time my aunt turned in her own keys to lost and found to the time our car and luggage were stolen in Cairo during a family vacation.
We also finally found laughter in a new family story which will undoubtedly also become a classic. I’m referring to The Granny Scam. I’ve been debating over the past three weeks whether to reveal this scam on this blog. But I’ve decided that the best way to deal with these scams is to spread the word. So this is what happened:
Several weeks ago my grandmother received a phone call, purportedly from me, saying I had an accident in London and urgently needed some money. My grandmother complied, wiring several Gs via Western Union. Shortly after this money was received, she received another call requesting more money. She again complied, sending more money.
Shortly after the second wire transfer was made I made a routine call to my grandmother to say hello. We discovered the whole sordid plot in time to cancel the second wire transfer. At the time I was not sure whether this was just a persuasive phone scam, or a wider case of identity theft. Law enforcement officials were notified on three continents, and I have undertaken a number of defensive measures just in case. I was hoping this scammer in London, who still calls my grandmother from time to time, would call during my visit so I could experience a surreal situation of speaking with someone pretending to be me.
Since this episode has happened I have become aware of many scam attempts on friends and other family by phone and email. The scams are increasingly clever and effective, and their pervasiveness seem to be overwhelming law enforcement officials. Just this past week my step mother has been in contact with a scammer from Jackson, MS, which is still playing out (but this time we’re one step ahead of the scammer). The one thing all these scams have in common is a reliance on Western Union. Beware anytime anyone asks for money to be sent this way.
Recently my father sent me this clipping from a Kentucky newspaper:
Seniors target in grandparents scam, state officials say
By Karla Ward
Kentucky senior citizens are being targeted in what the state attorney general’s office is calling a grandparents scam.
The attorney general’s office said in a news release that the victims receive a call from someone who poses as their grandchild and asks for money to help out in an emergency, such as an arrest or car accident. The grandparent is then asked to send thousands of dollars through a money transfer service. Sometimes, the callers may say they are a police officer or attorney calling on the grandchild’s behalf.
A woman from Vine Grove recently lost $6,000 when someone claiming to be her grandchild called, saying she had been arrested for drug possession during a traffic stop, according to the release. The woman wired the money to Canada through Western Union after the “grandchild” asked her not to tell her parents about the fake problem.
Scammers may be using social networking Web sites such as MySpace and Facebook to get personal information, including the names of family members, said Attorney General Jack Conway.
Consumers who receive such calls should call a relative to verify the situation and ask the caller a question to which only the true family member would know the answer.