As Grandparents Day approaches, it may be a good time to remind the elderly that the old “grandparent scam” is still out there and going strong.
Older Americans have always been targets of scammers. Thieves know that the elderly can have Social Security income, pensions, savings, investments and houses that may be paid off. That makes the elderly attractive potential victims.
The FBI says the grandparent scam has been around at least since 2008 with a recent surge in reported cases. The Federal Trade Commission reports that it has received more than 40,000 complaints about the grandparent scam since 2010. When you consider that many victims may be too embarrassed to report that they fell for that increasingly well-known scam, the actual number of scammed Americans may be much higher.
If you are in that older demographic or you know someone who is, take a moment to familiarize yourself with the latest techniques of the grandparent scam perpetrators.
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The favored technique
Here’s one example of the dialogue that can accompany the grandparent scam:
Young-sounding, frantic caller: Hi, Grandma. Guess who?
Resident: Is this you, (fill in grandchild’s name)?
Caller: Yes! I may sound different due to this bad phone connection. Grandma, I’m in trouble.
Resident: What happened?
Caller: I went on a trip to Mexico (or they may say Canada or some other country) and was in a car accident. The police found marijuana in the trunk, and I have no idea how it got there. They have my passport and won’t release me until my bail is paid. Please don’t tell Mom and Dad. I don’t want to worry them. If you’ll loan me the money, I’ll pay it right back.
Resident: How much is it?
Caller: They’re telling my time is up. I have to hang up. I’ll have the attorney give you a call. Love you!
A follow-up call from a different person claiming to be a legal representative tells the resident the amount and how to wire the money. If the money is paid, other calls can follow requesting even more incidental expense money, perhaps for a hospital visit, car repair or customs charges.
The Internet and personal information
Many Americans are sometimes unconcerned about posting private information online, especially on social networking sites like Facebook.
Scammers are mining this information and sometimes are able to gather enough of it to throw in a personal twist when they call the grandparent. Newspaper obituary sites are also useful to scammers looking for specific names.
Impersonating attorneys, police officers and bail bondsmen can be a breeze for a con artist over the telephone. Added background noise, muffled voices and fuzzy connections can contribute to the realism of their calls as well.
All of these increasingly effective techniques, when combined with the potential for alarm and panic on the part of the grandparent, may lead normally level-headed people to fall for this scam.
Defenses against the grandparent scam
• Be skeptical. Ask questions only the grandchild could know the answer to, without revealing too much personal information yourself. Ask the name of a pet, a favorite dish or what school they attend.
• Check with the grandchild’s family to see whether they really are traveling as they say, whether or not they have told you not to.
• Never send money to someone you have not met in person.
• Contact the State Department’s Office of Overseas Citizens Services (OCS) at 888-407-4747 to check on the legitimacy of any such call you receive.
• If you are victimized, register a complaint online with the Internet Crime Complaint Center.