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Avoiding the ‘grandparent scam’

By Richard Bauman

I answered the phone one morning and heard someone who sounded like our grandson, Edward, say, “Hi grandpa, it’s your favorite grandson.” And that’s how the “grandparent scam” usually starts.

That jovial greeting is usually followed by a tale of woe. In this instance, Edward was supposedly in New York for a buddy’s bachelor party. He had wrecked a rental car and been arrested for DUI.

Then comes the plea for money. He needed $8,000 to pay his fine and to fix the car. “Please help me out, grandpa,” that’s followed by another plea: “Please don’t tell my parents. I’ll explain it to them when I get home.”

My response to the fake Edward: “You’re a fraud,” and I hung up on him.

I knew that Ed wasn’t at a bachelor party in New York. He lives in California, and is a 14-year old high school freshman.

What should you do if you get a phone call supposedly from one of your grandchildren claiming to be in another state, or even a foreign country, and desperately needs several thousand dollars to get out of a jam?

First, be careful. Our natural inclination is to jump in and help but that could be the worst thing to do. Instead of reacting quickly:

Take a deep breath or two, relax and be noncommittal

Ask for a phone number where you can later reach him/her

Contact the supposed grandchild’s parents, siblings and others who would know if he or she is away from home as claimed.

If you know your grandchild’s cell phone, call him/her and leave a voicemail if need be, or text asking him/her to call you.

Be wary if the caller doesn’t sound like your grandchild; ask about it. Scammers usually will say it’s a bad connection or he/she has a cold or make some other vague explanation for their odd sounding voice.

Typically, grandparents are asked to wire the money to some out of state or out of the country location. Sometimes grandparents are told to buy several thousand dollars in prepaid debit cards and then phone the “grandchild” with the scratch-off numbers on the back of the cards. They can then use those numbers to get the money.

According to the National Council on Aging, the grandparent scam is successful because it is so simple, and devious, and it uses one of older adults’ most reliable assets – their hearts.

Older people are often easy targets for such cons, according to the AARP, because:

They’re more likely to be home during the day

They expect people to be honest

They are less likely to act when defrauded.

Further, the National Council on Aging estimated that senior citizens are robbed of about $3 billion annually via various financial scams.

Scamming grandparents can be lucrative for well-practiced criminals. Especially since the odds of being caught and prosecuted are slim.

One incarcerated scammer told journalist Carter Evans: “You can make $10,000 … in a day if you do it properly. Once you get them emotionally involved, then they’ll do anything for you, basically.”

“The effect (of the scam) on the victims is so great. It’s not simply the loss of the money. They feel stupid, they feel gullible, and they have nightmares about it and anxiety and depression,” says former Assistant U.S. Attorney Ellyn Lindsey, who successfully prosecuted the scammer that Carter Evans interviewed.

There are also email versions of this swindle. You receive an email supposedly from a friend who is in a foreign country, and has been robbed and needs money to pay for a new passport, his/her hotel and airfare home. I received such an email from my friend Connie, who said she was stuck in London. I knew it was a scam since Connie had died six months before the email arrived.

Recently, my wife received an email plea for help from a nun she knows who was ostensibly stranded in the Philippines. She called the nun’s cell phone and learned she was not stranded in the Philippines or anywhere else. She told Donna she had received numerous calls from people concerned about her well-being.

If a supposed grandchild, relative or friend either calls or emails and claims to be in dire need of money, after having had some devastating experience in either another state or a foreign country, fight the urge to react quickly to the request. Take the time to verify his or her story. It might truly be someone in need of help, but the call or email is more likely just an attempt to separate you from your money.

Lastly, when you receive a call from a number you don’t recognize, let your voicemail answer the call. Scammers don’t usually leave messages.

Sweet surprise: Union Springs cook bakes up an unplanned success

FPH Bakery is located in a renovated downtown building that housed Holmes Café for 55 years.

Story and photos by Jennifer Kornegay

Some say anything tastes better served on fine china and scooped up with a silver fork or spoon. At FPH Bakery in downtown Union Springs, you’ll find both fancy flatware and elegant plates in use, but the cakes, pies, soups, sandwiches and salads served here don’t need the aesthetic boost.

Judging by the packed dining room and a bakery counter that almost empties every day, owner and baker Amber Anderson could probably send out her kitchen creations on paper towels, and folks would still rave.

Anderson opened French Pressed Home (FPH) Bakery in February 2017, and its quick rise to success came as a sweet surprise, especially since owning a bakery and café was never really in her plans. Always interested in cooking, she taught herself to bake and a few years ago, made a few cakes at a friend’s request. The friend liked them and spread the word.

Soon, Anderson was taking orders for her cakes weekly and then moved into wedding cakes. Demand for her desserts ballooned into more than she could handle, and with twin boys also in need of her time, she was close to calling it quits. “I realized I had to expand or fold,” she says. “So I grew and opened the bakery.”

Chocolate-drizzled Napoleans are ready for customers.

She’s been thrilled by the support of her community, a hometown she and her family adopted only a few years ago. “The people here have been so great,” she says. “I knew they would be. I fell in love with this area and its people the first time I came.”

Born, raised and living in San Diego, Calif., until 2013, Anderson and her family made their way South after the recession in 2008 decimated her husband’s contracting business and left them looking for a fresh start. “I didn’t know where we wanted to go, but I knew it was time to leave California,” she says. “I never really thought about the South, but I was looking at houses all over online, and the affordability of properties down here piqued my interest.”

At the time, Anderson was running a vintage goods business and blogging about it (her blog’s name was French Pressed Home) while dreaming of running a bed and breakfast, and a historic house in Union Springs caught her eye. “I came down to look at the house, and I liked it, but I also liked the town,” she says.

She didn’t get that first house and realized it wasn’t the right time for her to pursue a B&B, but she and her husband were still smitten with Union Springs, so they stayed (and bought a new house in the old town). The move shocks some.

“People ask me all the time about how different it must be here compared to San Diego, but it’s really not,” she says. “The San Diego I grew up in in the 1970s had this real neighborhood feel and culture, kinda like a small town. That’s not how it is today, but that’s how it was for a lot of my time there.” Union Springs’ leisurely pace and genuine people reminded her of that childhood and instantly pulled her in.

Now, she’s bringing others to the town. Lunchtime at FPH stays busy; locals come in for a box lunch (a sandwich, chips and choice of dessert) or maybe a bowl of chili or chicken and rice soup with a cup of coffee. Early afternoon sees a steady stream of people sating a sugar fix, getting a sweet snack or an entire cake or pie to go.

FPH’s chicken salad is made with pecans, grapes, celery, poppy seeds and steak seasoning.

Others drive over from Montgomery, Auburn and Troy. Many come for a bite of her claim to fame: salted caramel cake, her riff on a Southern staple that eschews the traditional cooked icing for rich buttercream with her homemade “secret recipe” caramel (with a hint of salt) stirred in. “The usual caramel icing down here is actually hard to get right,” she says. “I decided not to even try and compete with everybody’s Nana.”

And while Anderson’s baked goods – buttery croissants, fudgy brownies, fancifully festooned cupcakes, cookies, pies and more – take the front seat, driving a lot of the bakery’s traffic, a savory dish is not far behind in popularity. Whether it’s between two pieces of bread or mounded on the aforementioned pretty plates with pickles and crackers on the side, FPH’s chicken salad is giving the pastries and other confections a run for their money. Combining both fine, soft shreds and meatier chunks of roasted chicken, sliced red grapes, chopped pecans, pureed celery, a dash of steak seasoning and poppy seeds with a just enough silky mayo to hold things together, it’s creamy, crunchy, tart, peppery and salty all at once.

Housed in an old building on the edge of downtown that Anderson’s husband Bruce carefully renovated, FPH has a convivial atmosphere that’s a draw too. She used her blog’s name for the bakery, and it fits. “I love all things French, baking is associated with France, and I do want this place to feel like a home, to be comfortable,” she says.

Friendly staff, Anderson included, roll out the welcome, and exposed brick lit by glittering chandeliers provides some old-world flair. The china and silver are charming but not pretentious: All mismatched, they’re from the collection Anderson amassed in her previous business. Delights like cakes topped with bright berries and delicate napoleons glistening with drizzled chocolate perch on pedestals of varying heights on a worn wooden counter, “icing” on the spot’s appeal and hospitality.

The vibe is all Anderson, but she’s also embracing the property’s past. “It was a restaurant called Holmes Cafe, run by two brothers, for 55 years, and there were a lot of happy eating memories made here,” Anderson says. She’s hoping to continue the legacy.

She’s also hoping her presence downtown helps other businesses and encourages new ones to locate in the city’s center too. “I love this place and want to do all I can to promote this community and be a part of the positive change already happening,” she says. “It’s exciting to see new business open in this area.”

She’s equally excited by her first year’s accomplishments and looking forward to a prosperous 2018, but putting satisfied smiles on her customer’s faces is the sweet reward that turns her lips up. “This is hard work, but it’s really fun too, and for me, it’s not about making a ton of money,” she says. “It’s about making people leave here happier than they were when they came in.”


While you’re there

The town of Union Springs is a popular day trip for groups. If you visit, be sure to check out the Josephine Art Center, 126 Prairie St. N., where you can visit the local historical museum, view Alabama artwork, create your own work of art, host a private party, book an historic tour of Bullock County, or even check out a ghost tour! More at artatjosephine.com, email promiseland@ustconline.net or (334)703-0098.

 

Spring planting time: Picking the perfect plants

If, like me, you’re looking forward to home-grown summer vegetables, herbs and flowers, it’s time to get planting.

Those of you who thought ahead and started seeds inside or in a cold frame or greenhouse already have a great source of plant material ready to go in the ground. But don’t forget to harden them off first. “Hardening off” is a process that gradually transitions young, tender plants from their sheltered indoor life to the more extreme world of the great outdoors.

Start the process by putting seedlings outside during the day in a shaded, protected area for a couple of hours, then bring them back inside. Gradually lengthen the amount of time they spend outside and the amount of sun exposure they receive on each consecutive day and, in about a week, they should be ready to go out into the world. (The length of time for hardening off varies depending on weather conditions and plant type, so check seed packages for recommendations.)

If you haven’t thought ahead, though, transplants (ready-to-plant seedlings) are abundantly available at retail outlets throughout the state, and they make growing all kinds of annual plants pretty darn easy, especially if you follow these tips.

Pick smaller plants. Avoid extra-large plants and look for smaller, more compact plants that are about as wide as they are tall. Beware of plants that are overcrowded. If there are several plants in a single pot or seedling cell, it may seem like you’re getting more plants for your money, but they may be less healthy or stunted.

Pick quality plants. Buy only healthy plants that exhibit good color in their leaves and stems and show no signs of yellowing, wilting or damage. Make sure their growing media is moist and the transplants are not root-bound. Try to avoid buying vegetable, fruit or herb plants that are already flowering, and look for flowering plants that have buds, not blossoms, so you’ll ensure a longer blooming period.

Plant quickly. Try to avoid buying transplants more than two days before planting. If you have to wait longer than that to get them in the ground, store them in a warm, sunny, but protected spot and keep them well watered.

Plant properly. Gently remove transplants from their containers so you don’t damage their tops or roots, and plant them deep enough so the soil can support them as their root systems develop. Water them well immediately after planting, and water them frequently for several days after planting. Hold off on applying fertilizer, which can burn tender leaves and stimulate excessive foliage growth. Mulch around the plants to keep moisture near their roots and suppress weeds.

When buying transplants, quality is important, and one way to ensure good quality plants is to buy “local.” Look for plants that were produced in Alabama or the Southeast — that means they didn’t have far to travel to get to your garden, so they should be less stressed. If the source of the plant is not listed on the label, ask the store’s staff or manager where they came from.

In addition to transplants, many annual seeds can now be sown directly into the garden. If you collected seed from last year’s plants or know a gardener who is willing to share ones they collected, that’s ideal. But if you need to buy seed, go for quality. A great source of fresh seed — and seed that is tried-and-true in your area — is a store that sells bulk, loose seed (farmer cooperatives and feed-and-seed stores, for example). 

If you can’t find the seed or plants you’re looking for at a local store, catalogues provide exceptional choices, especially for less common selections such as non-GMO, organic, heirloom or newly released varieties and cultivars. Just make sure you’re ordering from a reputable company by checking consumer reviews and reviewing their guarantee and return policies.

Oh, and if in your excitement you overbuy seeds or transplants, don’t toss them out. Donate them to a community or school garden and share the wealth. That way you and others can look forward to all kinds of gardening rewards in the months to come.

Katie Jackson is a freelance writer and editor based in Opelika, Alabama. Contact her at katielamarjackson@gmail.com.

Birders take flight and travel the globe

By Gayle Gresham

Looking for your travel to take flight this year? Become a birder and enjoy all kinds of new places to visit while adding bird species to your list and enjoying time spent wherever this activity takes you.

Birdwatching is rising in popularity in the United States and throughout the world. Anyone can do it, whether you live in the city, the suburbs or the country. You can set up your own feeders in your own backyard and keep a list of the species that visit you. Or, if you love to travel and you enjoy birdwatching, you can visit wilderness refuges, travel to bird festivals, and take guided tours of bird habitats anywhere in the world.

Backyard birdwatching

It’s great to start bird watching by simply looking out your window and seeing the birds that congregate in your yard or on your patio. Is that a bluebird? What type of bluebird? An eastern, western, or mountain bluebird? You can go old school by checking a field guide like Peterson’s or Sibley’s or you can look up bluebirds on http://allaboutbirds.org  (Cornell Lab of Ornithology). Check the range map and see which is common in your region. Look at the markings and distinctive features. Many birds show enough variation to make an ID with ease. The All About Birds website also contains recordings of each bird’s song so identification can also be made by the birdsong. 

White egrec near San Fransisco Bay. Photo by Alfred Leung on Unsplash.

Going high-tech with your identification tools can make it easier to take them along when you travel. Download the Merlin Bird ID app (Cornell Lab of Ornithology) to your cell phone. The app asks five questions to help identify a bird. It then pulls up bird photos matching the description that have been seen in your region. Or, take a photo of the bird, upload it to Merlin and it will identify the bird for you. 

Those who catch birdwatching fever often keep a list of the birds they have seen or heard. A life list consists of all of the bird species seen in your lifetime while a yearly list tics off every bird species seen in a year. A list can be kept in a simple notebook, in a special birding notebook, or it can be a simple notation of date and place beside the picture in a guide book. Computer list options include Birder’s Diary software, which also allows photos, or use the eBird mobile app for cell phones, which uses GPS coordinates for bird species sightings.

As you become familiar with the birds in your backyard, you will be able to recognize when a bird not common to your area appears. When you see a rare bird, you can report it through eBird or the American Birding Society so other birders can visit your backyard and add it to their lists.

Local birding

A killdeer, which often performs a “broken wing” routine to draw a predator away
Photo by Ken Christison.

If birdwatching has captured your attention and your curiosity has grown beyond the birds showing up in your backyard, then what? It’s time for some birding excursions.

First, call someone you know who is a birdwatcher. Don’t know anyone? Start asking around. You might be surprised by which of your friends are birders. Ask at your library about birdwatching clubs or search the internet for local and state birding clubs and chapters of the Audubon Society for programs, events and field trips. You can go out on your own, but it’s helpful to have someone teach you how to locate and identify the birds. Grab your binoculars, camera and cell phone and head to the wilderness or city park.

One way to learn from an experienced watcher is to join the Audubon Society’s annual Christmas Bird Count, which allows beginner birders to take part. Participants count every bird seen or heard in a 15-mile diameter designated circle over a 24-hour period of time between Dec. 14 and Jan. 5. The count acts as an annual census of birds across the world.

Travel birding

Your interest in birds has been piqued and now you’d like to see species of birds that are not local to your area. It’s time to travel! You can either travel to see birds in a certain locale or go on vacation and see what interesting birds are in your planned location. Once again, the internet can help you identify places to see birds. There are more than 562 National Wildlife Refuges and 38 wetland management districts in the United States. Visit the www.fws.gov/refuges website for locations and information. There are also 10,234 state parks and 58 national parks, giving you plenty of opportunity to travel and find birds. 

At least 38 states have American Birding Association Birding Trails. A designated Birding Trail system links wildlife refuges, state parks and national parks in a state, along with noted habitats found along the route. The trails may be hiking trails or highways to drive. Information on state birding trails can be found on the internet. 

Red-tailed hawk watches a squirrel
Photo by David Morris on Unsplash

The World Birding Center in the Lower Rio Grande Valley in Texas features nine locations with more than 500 species of birds at the convergence of two major migration flyways. Bird festivals are another great way to see specific birds and take part in workshops and tours. Many festivals coincide with migration to see the greatest number of species in a set place.

Competitive birding

You’ve learned to identify birds, enjoy the challenge and you’re ready to dive further into birding, perhaps on a competitive level. There are various events for all ages sponsored by bird organizations. Join The Big Sit! hosted by Bird Watcher’s Digest — 24 hours of sitting in a 17-foot diameter circle with a team counting every birds species seen.

“Big Day” events or birdathons are sponsored by bird associations and often raise pledges for their societies and conservation by counting how many species of birds can be seen in 24 hours. They can be done individually or in teams. The Global Big Day is sponsored by eBird and on May 13, 2017, almost 20,000 birders from 150 countries turned in 50,000 checklists with 6,564 species of birds spotted in one day. That is more than 60 percent of all of the species of birds in the world. 

Stretching that day to a year, The Big Year is the ultimate challenge in birding. It is a competition to see who can see the most birds in one year in a specific geographical area.

A little curiosity and a greater awareness of birds can take you in many directions. Travel, see the country, see the world, and see the birds as you go! Maybe a Big Year is in your future.

Gayle Gresham writes from her electric-co-op powered home in Elbert, Colorado. She now has Merlin Bird ID on her phone and is ready to go watch some birds.


Alabama’s trails offer an abundance of bird-watching locations

Alabama has an abundance of bird species – 430 at last count – to watch, from the Tennessee border to the Gulf Coast.

The Alabama Birding Trails is a system of eight trails highlighting the best public locations available to watch birds year-round. According to its website, alabamabirdingtrails.com, our state provides a critical habitat for hundreds of bird species, from the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker to the now flourishing bald eagle.

As interest in wildlife observation grows, more people want to explore our amazing biodiversity, which makes Alabama second only to Florida in the Eastern U.S. in total number of species of plants and animals.

The eight Alabama Birding Trails unify existing and potential birding sites into a series of cohesive trails and loops that are collectively marketed as part of a statewide system. Many of the sites along the various trails are already being used by thousands of birders and other visitors annually.

The Alabama Birding Trails program recently announced the addition of 10 new birding trail sites, bringing the total number of locations to 280 in 65 counties. Two of the new sites are on Forever Wild properties: the Wehle Forever Wild Tract near Midway, and the Yates Lake Forever Wild Tract near Tallassee.

Brown-headed nuthatch in Alabama. Photo by Mark Langston.

The eight other sites are: Heflin’s Cahulga Creek Park; Coosa County’s Flagg Mountain, near Weogufka; the Lee County Public Fishing Lake, near Opelika; the Louise Kreher Forest Ecology Preserve and Nature Center, in Auburn; Minooka Park, in Jemison; the Moss Rock Preserve, in Hoover; Shades Creek Greenway, in Homewood; and the Smith Mountain Fire Tower, near Dadeville.

Alabama’s Birding Trails offer the public a chain of eight geographic regions: North Alabama, West Alabama, Appalachian Highlands, Piedmont Plateau, Black Belt Nature and Heritage, Pineywoods, Wiregrass, and Alabama Coastal Birding Trail. Specific information on each region is available at the alabamabirdingtrails.com website.

This project is a collaborative effort by the Alabama Tourism Department, University of Alabama Center for Economic Development, Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Birmingham Audubon Society, chambers of commerce across the state, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the National Forest Service and others.

The discovery of the Orline St. John

William Harris was deadheading when he saw the hog chains.

That was what he told me back in 1991 when I interviewed him in his store at ‘Possum Bend, west of Camden and not far from the Alabama River.

“Deadheads” were sunken logs that had lain long in the water and had taken on the tea-color that was highly prized by furniture makers. “Hog chains” were the rods used to stabilize steamboats that once plied the waters. Moving closer, Harris could see the outline of the hull.

It was 1954.

Harris was a riverman. All his life he had heard stories of steamboat wrecks. Now he had found one.

Getting some friends to help him, they began free diving and soon their efforts brought results. Out of the mud and silt came twisted metal, nails, buttons, bits of copper and scraps of leather and cloth. Then one of them recovered a piece of broken dinnerware, with something written on it. As they washed away the muck, the bright blue words came clear: “Orline St. John Tim Meaher.”

The names recalled one of the era’s great steamboat captains, Tim Meaher, and one of the era’s great tragedies. In March of 1850, the steamboat Orline St. John caught fire and burned. Nearly 40 passengers and crew perished, including all the women and children on board.

With the wreck identified, Harris wanted to know more. So he began digging into old courthouse records and there he found mention of a strongbox and its treasure. The news could not be contained and soon the local press reported that “Wilcox Gold Hunters” were at work on the river. Fearing for the future of their find, Harris and his friends obtained salvage rights. Then they brought in a “centrifugal pump” to blow away the silt.

Up came an impressive array of artifacts – dishes, razors, knives, forks, needles, thimbles, buttons, shoes, blots of cloth, barrels, kegs, and thousands of nails. Once they found a box intact. On its way to the surface it broke apart and what they thought were coins spilled out – but they were only brass-collar buttons.

Also brought up were items that personalized the tragedy: “a miniature locket” with a “blue and pink enameled design” that was likely worn by one of the women, and a “dainty baby dress” that had survived the fire and almost a century under water, but fell to pieces when it dried.

They did not find any gold. There were lumps of coins which have been melted together by the intense heat, but there was no treasure.

Harris took what he found home and displayed it at his store. Meanwhile, in 1969, the U.S. Corps of Engineers built a dam at Miller’s Ferry, about 20 miles below the wreck. Soon the Orline St. John was under 40 feet of water.

But river rumors die hard and even today it is told around of how after the lake was full, divers went down, found the gold – bars about the size of “cakes of Octagon Soap” according to one report — and spirited it away.

Maybe they did.

Or maybe there was never any treasure.

Or maybe it is still there.

William Harris died in 2008 at the age of 98.

Harvey H. (Hardy) Jackson is Professor Emeritus at Jacksonville State University and a regular contributor to Alabama Living.  He can be reached at hjackson@cableone.net.