There is a very real and terrible scam going on in the U.S. and abroad, in which grandparents are being targeted.
The scam begins with something most grandparents don’t get enough of—a phone call, email message or a message through Facebook from a grandchild. The scammer, impersonating that grandchild, is frantic and says he’s been hurt in a car accident, or arrested, or gotten in some kind of trouble and needs money fast.
One former scammer told CBS News that he can easily make $10,000 in a single day. He just keeps calling until someone bites. Then he does it again and again.
A typical conversation goes like this:
Hey, Grandma, Hi Grandpa … It’s me Johnny. I’m in a little bit of trouble right now. Yeah, Ashley is good. But I’ve got a problem. If I tell you, just keep it between us. Don’t tell Mom and Dad—they’d freak out and they wouldn’t understand. I’m on vacation, but I got into a little accident, and I was arrested for a DUI. Things got out of control, and I need you to pleeeeeze send me money.
These days it’s not hard to come up with enough personal information on just about anyone to make it sounds believable: names, colleges, locations.
To make things even more convincing sometimes an “officer” or an “attorney” comes on the phone to explain the seriousness of the situation and why money is needed right away (to post bail or to cover medical costs, for example).
Then the grandparents are asked to purchase prepaid money cards, which are commonly available at grocery and convenience stores. Once they purchase the cards, they get instructions to provide the multi-digit codes on the back of the cards. With this information, scammers can go online and drain the cards’ funds.
This is not a new scam. In fact you may have heard about it in the past, assuming that by now everyone is wise to these unsolicited phone calls of desperation from scamsters impersonating grandchildren. But this crime isn’t winding down.
On the contrary, it is growing. Every day grandparents are being scammed (the average take is $4,000) and all for the love of their grandchildren.
Grandparents who fall for the scam admit to being heartbroken. They feel stupid. As with all kinds of elder financial abuse, many actually try to hide it because they are embarrassed and fear losing control of the money they have left.
One of the reasons this scam works is because of the special the relationship between a grandparent and a grandchild. It’s different than the relationship between a parent and a child. Grandparents are more likely than parents to send money, no questions asked. Scam artists understand this and they take full advantage of it.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine has offered the following tips for how you can help protect the elderly from this scam:
- Talk to your family about these scams and discuss how you would communicate during a true emergency.
- If you get a call from a grandchild or other family member who claims to be in trouble, ask questions only your real family members would know how to answer.
- Don’t send money via wire transfer or prepaid card in response to an unexpected phone call. These are preferred payment methods of scammers because they are difficult to trace or recover once payment is provided.
- Limit the amount of information you post online and limit who can view your information. For example, don’t post upcoming travel plans online, because scammers could use that information to take advantage of your family.