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Phone scam targeted Ogdensburg family

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OGDENSBURG — When Gina M. Ahrens of Ogdensburg was told that her son was involved in a fatal automobile crash, it was the worst day of her life.

But the news was a lie.

The call, which was placed to her in-laws, Douglas H. and Dorothy M. Ahrens, turned out to be a scam, one of the latest reported to the Ogdensburg Police Department, Lt. Harry J. McCarthy said.

The Ahrenses received the phone call around 4:30 p.m. Wednesday.

The first caller posed as their grandson, Matthew M. Ahrens, and said he had been drinking with a friend and got into an automobile accident in Atlanta, Ga.

“The man posing as my son said was he was OK,” Gina Ahrens said. “He told my in-laws that he didn’t sound like himself because he broke his nose and cut his lip. He said he had been taken from the hospital to the police station because the accident had resulted in a fatality.”

Five minutes later, her in-laws received a call from someone posing as a lawyer, David Bell, who said he was representing their grandson. He said their grandson was involved in a car accident and had been charged with driving while intoxicated. He gave them a case number and a phone number to call.

“He said that our son was incarcerated and we needed to pay $2,950 in bail so he could be released from jail,” Gina Ahrens said.

Douglas Ahrens was ready to pay the fee until the fake lawyer asked a question.

“He said to my father-in-law, ‘Your grandson told me you were retired?’” Gina Ahrens said. “My father-in-law said he was retired law enforcement. After that, the line went dead.”

That’s when the elder Ahrenses called Gina and her husband, Mark D.

Douglas Ahrens “told us to come over there immediately,” Gina Ahrens said. “That Matthew had been in a bad accident, and we had to get ahold of this lawyer, David Bell.”

But the phone number they were given had been disconnected.

“We were all in a panic. We tried to contact my son, but we could not get ahold of him,” Gina Ahrens said.

Matthew Ahrens, 20, has been serving in the Navy for more than a year and has been stationed in Bahrain for the last eight months. He is due home next month, for 27 days of leave.

The family called the Navy recruiting office in Potsdam and the American Red Cross.

At roughly 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, they reached Matthew via Skype. “It was just a nightmare for all of us,” his mother said.

Scammers usually target the elderly, Lt. McCarthy said.

Gina Ahrens said she hopes sharing her story will help another family in the future.

“I don’t want anyone else to have to go through this,” she said. “Both my in-laws are over 80 years old. I don’t know who is doing this, but it takes an awful person to do something like this.”

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