With school out and college kids exploring the world, so-called “Grandparent Scams” are on the rise. These insidious scams prey on the reputation of grandparents as willing to help their grandchildren and the possibility that their memories might be weakened by age or illness. Elder abuse scams, like this one, result in over $35 billion lost each year.
How they work:
Scammers employ several methods to find their victims. Stereotypically old-fashioned names in a phone book are used as targets, as well as folks on lists for certain publications or services that cater to the elderly. Once the scammer identifies a person as a potential target, they call them up and bait them into giving a name. Often, they will say, “hi, grandma, do you know who this is?” or “hi, grandpa, it’s your favorite grandson!” When the elderly person on the other end of the line supplies a name, the caller has just legitimized him or herself by doing very little. Scammers may also use social media to ascertain details about family members’ travel plans in order to seem more legitimate.
Once they establish a relationship, the scammers relay an urgent financial predicament that requires immediate monetary assistance. They may claim they are the victim of a stolen credit card while abroad, a car accident, a mugging, or, as in the case of my own mother-in-law, the scammer claimed he was her son and needed bail money due to an arrest. Thankfully, her caregiver intervened and my mother-in-law called my husband to ensure everything was okay. However, many people are not so lucky.
After the scammers have established a relationship and a sense of immediacy, they often urge the grandparents to not tell the scammers’ “parents” and then ask for a wire transfer of funds. If a grandparent has difficulty getting to the bank or a wire transfer location, the scammer is often quick to help them call a cab in order to get their money expeditiously.
One of the reasons these scammers continue to succeed and avoid detection is that many victims are too embarrassed to report it to the authorities. They are ashamed they got confused or that a stranger was able to dupe them into giving money. Unfortunately, this type of scam is fairly common and they are not alone, but by reporting it, they help increase the chances of catching the perpetrators.
What can you do?
EDUCATE: Educate your parents and loved ones – it can be as simple as starting a conversation by saying, “I read an article the other day about these terrible scammers that claim to be a family member in need money, but don’t want you to tell anyone.”
DELAY: If you receive a phone call yourself, delay the payment of money for a few days if you aren’t sure whether the person is legitimate. Don’t be thrown off by offers of cab rides to the bank or Western Union. Simply tell the person it will take a few days for you to come up with the money.
VERIFY: Always attempt to verify that the purported caller is who they say they are. You should check with several other family members and call the purported caller back on a number that you know to be theirs.
SHARE: Before anyone in your family travels, it is prudent to share all travel plans and itineraries with those at home. It is also a good idea to come up with a code word that a scammer would not be able to use with a grandparent or elderly parent.
REPORT: Finally, report it or help your parent or grandparent report the attempted scheme to the police. You can also go to the NC Department of Justice’s website and fill out a form.
With the rising number of aging baby boomers, longer life expectancy, and the prevalence of memory disorders, these scammers seek to take advantage of the good-hearted nature of those most dear to us. It is important to be aware of popular types of scams and to educate those we love in order to prevent them from becoming victims to their own generosity.
For more information on protecting yourself and your loved ones, visit: http://www.consumerfed.org/pdfs/Grandparent-Scam-Tips.pdf