Maymie Anderson was sitting in her Texas home last month watching Oprah when a caller identifying himself as Sgt. Thomas, told her that someone she loved had been in a car accident, reports the Chicago Tribune. Thomas said she needed to call a phone number for more information. Anderson slumped to the floor of her living room. Anderson was a victim of one of Cook County Jail’s time-honored scams–inmates hijacking phone lines to make collect calls at victims’ expense.
Thomas turned out to be a man awaiting trial for murder. Cook County Sheriff Thomas Dart announced similar charges against 19 other inmates–many of them facing charges of murder or other violent crimes. Inmates typically pose as a police officer and instruct the victims to call another telephone number–with a special prefix–for further information on their loved one at the accident scene. By making that call, victims let their phone line be hijacked by a friend of the inmate who can then hook up three-way calls for the inmate while the victims are frantically trying to figure out if loved ones were injured. Inmates made more than a combined $50,000 in collect calls through the scam.