When Ruth Brewer's phone rang a couple of weeks ago, she thought it was her son Brian on the line — a call that kickstarted a harrowing experience that had her scrambling for cash.
"I answered the call and it was, 'Mom, Mom, I've had an accident,' and I said, 'Where are you?' And then it was, 'Constable Jonathan wants to speak with you," said the 70-year-old Corner Brook resident.
"It sounded to me like Brian, and Brian was upset."
Brewer said there was crackling noise on the line — like it was a cellphone and he was travelling on the highway.
Another man pretending to be a police officer told Brewer her son had a fender bender and he was in touch with a lawyer who would soon give her a call.
Minutes later the lawyer called and told her Brian had been texting while driving when the accident happened, and that a judge said everything would be dropped, if the $4,000 fine was paid.
"What was going through my mind is, 'Okay, I'll write a cheque and take it down to the court."
The scammers didn't want a cheque, they wanted $4,000 worth of prepaid debit cards for Steam —an online gaming system — that the fictitious judge would then donate to an after-school program to be used for educational purposes.
"I didn't know the difference, I'd never heard of Steam cards. He said, 'We'd never ask for a credit card,'" Brewer recounted.
Store clerk raised the red flag
Brewer went to the closest store and asked if she could buy $4,000 worth of Steam cards. The clerk immediately told her it was a scam, and they only sell $200 worth at a time.
"I said, 'No, this call wasn't a scam, I was talking to my son, and I was talking to the policeman and I was talking to the lawyer."
But as she was leaving the store Brewer began to wonder if it could be a scam. She went to look for her son's car at his office, called him at work, at home on his cell with no answer, before deciding to go to the police station to see if he was there.
While she was waiting for an officer, Brian called on her cellphone, confirming there was no accident.
When she got home, a person claiming to be the lawyer's assistant called.
"I said, 'This is a scam!' and he hung up," Brewer said.
Brewer said she feels gullible for falling for it, and she has learned to be very cautious with callers in the future.
The Royal Newfoundland Constabulary told CBC News Tuesday it has received one other complaint that is similar to Brewer's experience. Police are reminding people not to provide compensation by way of gifts cards, e-transfer or wire transfer to someone they don't know.