The voice on the other end of the telephone line sounded official and when it asked for repayment for missed tax payments and overdue hospital bills dozens of elderly ladies in Paris, had no reason to question its authenticity.
Many simply pulled out their bank cards to settle up and hand over their details.
The problem was it was a scam, but unlike the dozens of scams that do the rounds these days, this one was being operated out of French prison cell.
Police said the suspect managed to get his hands on a mobile phone and then used it to troll for his victims, Europe 1 radio reported on Thursday.
From his cell in a prison in south-west French town of Lannemezan the 35-year-old suspect with a lengthy criminal record spent hours hunting for suitable victims who would fall prey to his swindle. He’d call up directory assistance and ask for phone numbers in Paris for names like Yvette, Madeleine or Paulette—names from an older generation.
Then he’d simply start calling and deliver his well-rehearsed script about "outsanding debt".
The most believing of his victims would simply hand over their bank card details believing they were settling their debt, at other times the crook would even send an accomplice to go to one of the victims homes to pick up the money.
Police aren’t sure how much was taken in total, but believe several dozen elderly ladies fell pray to the con man.
It was the suspect’s use of his victims bank card details—again from prison— to buy things online that gave him away in the end. Police investigating the scam traced the purchases back to the prison.
It wasn't the first prisoner problem reported at the high-security Lannemezan detention center. Last year prisoners filmed themselves brandishing knives while in their cells. The clips later surfaced on French TV.
Though seperate incidents in a prison in the eastern French city of Montmédy got far more attention. In it prisoners filmed themselves, some armed, doing a behind bars rendition of dance craze the Harlem Shake.