WESTFIELD, MA (WGGB/WSHM) -- In the age of robocalls and telemarketers, many people no longer answer the phone when they get a call from an unknown number, and that’s what one Westfield woman did until that number called her three times.
What she heard on the other end, she said, was horrifying.
Kerrie Bodendorf heard of the scams where someone calls and pretends to be their child or grandchild in need. She told Western Mass News she wasn’t prepared for the voice on the other end to sound exactly like her son.
Twice Bodendorf let the phone ring around 11 a.m. on Thursday. But on the third time, she finally answered the call from a Chicago-area number, with the caller ID saying Mercy Hospital.
"This frantic person who sounded exactly like my son said, “Mom," she explained.
The Westfield mother has a 21-year-old son named Jalen, who serves as the coast guard. She told us the voice on the other end described something no parent wants to hear.
"'I was just in a car accident. I don’t know what happened,' They said, 'I passed out at the wheel,'" Bodendorf explained.
But even though the caller ID said it was a hospital, the voice on the phone started telling a different story.
"'They took me to jail, and please take down this number, this is my lawyer’s number,'" she added.
When Bodendorf, still in a panic, asked why he was in jail and not receiving medical care...
"He said, 'The call’s going to drop mom. The call’s going to drop,'" she said.
Bodendorf’s husband got in touch with Jalen.
"He was fine," she said.
She then called the lawyer’s "866" number, but the call disconnected.
She called the Chicago number back and reached someone at Mercy Hospital.
"The woman said, 'Oh, I think you were scammed. This is happening all over the country,'" Bodendorf explained.
Western Mass News reached out to Bentley University Professor Steve Weisman, who's also a scam expert. He told us this type of soundalike scam is possible with artificial intelligence.
"Someone can get sound recordings of a particular person’s voice, and then use this AI to mimic them," he said.
Western Mass News tried twice calling the "866" lawyer number, but the call disconnected both times. Looking online, at the website called "Who Calls Me," another person reported getting the same frantic phone call on the same day Bodendorf got hers.
"His voice is pretty recognizable to me. I’m his mother, right?" she noted.
Bodendorf said she devised a plan with her kids, as she’s now nervous she’ll doubt the next frantic call, one that could be real.
"We have a secret family codeword, that if you don’t know it, you are not part of my family," she explained.
Western Mass News also reached out to Mercy Medical Center, who released a statement, saying:
"The phone call in question did not originate at Mercy Medical Center in Springfield, or from any other facility within the Trinity Health network."