"Grandma, it's Ben. I've been in a car accident. I've hit two other people."
In that moment, an Alamo grandmother says her head began to spin. Her 27-year-old grandson Ben was on the phone, or so she believed. She had no reason to think otherwise.
"Ben" told her not to worry. He said he had a lawyer, but he needed his grandmother to wire money to help him get out of trouble.
"And please," he pleaded, "don't tell Mom and Dad."
That final plea, the woman would say later, should have been a tipoff.
Now, police are using the woman's example to warn elderly residents of a so-called "grandma scam" that is targeting an increasing number of older people.
"This has been a real nagging pain," said Danville Police Chief Steve Simpkins. "We've received many, many complaints about this."
The scam is a takeoff on email schemes that solicit money, Simpkins said. Only this time, the solicitations come over the phone from con artists preying on concerned family members. The crooks impersonate the victim's grandchild and purport to be in a dire situation that only cash -- lots of it -- will solve. Older women are the typical targets.
The scammers often come equipped, too. Police said the criminals use various means to gather information about the victim's family tree and use it in running the con. Not only do the crooks know the victim's information, but they often know bits and pieces about their family, as well.
She is not alone. Police in Moraga responded to two similar calls last week. In both instances, a man told the victims he was an attorney representing the victim's grandchild, and that money was needed to cover vehicle damage resulting from a car wreck.
"What we would tell people is to be very careful and ask questions that only a family member would know the answer to," Simpkins said. "But it's not always easy."
The Alamo victim, a 54-year resident of the town who didn't want her name used, said the man who tried to con her knew enough about her family to be convincing.
"Plus, you're trying to process that you think your grandson has been in an accident," she said. "This can happen to anyone."
Still, police said there are clues to a potential scam.
Twice, calls came into the victim's phone with area codes that are not in the United States or Canada. Such numbers, police said, often come from areas in the Caribbean, where many of these scams originate.
The victim also said "Ben's" constant pleas not to tell his parents should have tipped her off. That is an intimidating device, police said, designed to create fear.
Any request to send money via wire should also trigger an immediate alarm, police said, especially if the relative professes to be within close distance. Another alarm should go off when the person running the scam becomes argumentative, as happened with the Alamo victim.
"Oh, he became very cross at me when I told him I didn't go to Western Union to wire the money," she said. "He started yelling at me, 'You've messed everything up. How can you do this to your grandchild?'"
In truth, the woman's grandson was fine. And due to a bit of good fortune and an alert bank teller, police said, so was her money.
"It's nice to know," she said, "that there are still honest people."
Rick Hurd covers public safety and crime. Contact him at 925-945-4780 and follow him at Twitter.com/3rdERH.