The Better Business Bureau continues to receive reports of grandparents who thought they were aiding their grandchildren by providing money for an emergency situation but were in fact giving thousands of dollars to con artists.
Generally, the scam works like this: the grandparent receives a distressed phone call, usually in the middle of the night, from someone they believe is their grandchild. The callers typically say that they are traveling and have been arrested or involved in an auto accident and need the grandparent to wire money to post bail or pay for damages, usually amounting to a few thousand dollars.
While many seniors have reported the scam without falling prey to it, many others have been victimized. One well-meaning grandmother sent $15,000 to scammers, thinking she was helping a grandchild who had been in an auto accident. With the new wave of calls, victims are also contacted by someone claiming to be a police officer or lawyer representing the grandchild in court.
The “grandchild” pleads to the grandparents to wire thousands of dollars bail, repairing the car, covering lawyer’s fees or paying hospital bills.
The key to avoiding this scam is to remain calm despite the “emergency” nature of the call and to verify the identity of the caller. The scammers’ basic tactic is to pose as a grandchild and let the unsuspecting grandparent fill in the blanks. For example, the scam caller might say, “It’s me, your favorite grandchild.” The grandparent supplies the name, and then the call proceeds.
Law enforcement officials are not certain how perpetrators are obtaining phone numbers for so many senior citizens across the U.S. However, it is believed that scammers are most likely calling random numbers until they happen to reach a senior citizen. For more targeted attempts, Social Networking provides a wealth of information that the scammers can utilize.
To protect themselves from this scam, and other scams that may use a distressed loved-one tactic, the BBB is advising seniors to confirm the status of the individual by calling them directly, asking questions that only they can answer or verifying the story with other family members before taking any further action.
The BBB also advises that any request to wire money through Western Union or MoneyGram should be seen as a red flag and an immediate tip-off that the call may be part of a scam. Funds sent via wire transfer are hard to track once received by scammers and are usually not recoverable by law enforcement or banking officials.
Anyone victimized by this type of distressed loved-one call should report the incident immediately to their local police department. If there is a request to wire money to Canada, the Canadian Anti-Fraud Call Centre has established the PhoneBusters hotline and Web site to report such fraud. Reports can be filed easily online through the PhoneBusters site.