Awakened by a phone call from a grandchild who is in trouble; of course you want to help. No-one ever thinks they could be tricked by a con, but fraudsters can be so good at social and emotional manipulation they might get past our best defenses. The “grandparent scam” has been reported to law enforcement for years and is still very much alive today.
According to the FBI common scenarios include:
- A grandparent receives a phone call (or sometimes an e-mail) from a “grandchild”. If it is phone call, it’s often late at night or early in the morning, when most people aren’t thinking that clearly. Usually, the person claims to be traveling in a foreign country and has gotten into a bad situation like: being arrested for drugs, getting in a car accident or being mugged—and needs money wired ASAP. The caller doesn’t want his or her parents told.
- Sometimes, instead of the “grandchild” making the phone call, the criminal pretends to be an arresting police officer, a lawyer, a doctor at a hospital, or some other person. In other cases the phony grandchild talks first and then hands the phone over to an accomplice to further spin the fake tale.
Social Media has added new levels of believability to this scam.
- Some scam artists are cyber savvy and use information gleaned from Facebook or other social media to make the con seem more authentic.
- The names, including nicknames, can make it possible for the con to call you by your special grandparent name, or even use your pet name for your grandchild when they call.
- These sites provide access to information that can make the call seem more legitimate. If your grandson is really traveling and posting it on facebook, the scammer can accurately say where he would be and what he has been doing. It makes the scam far more believable.
The amount requested in this scam can range from a few hundred to a few thousand and typically does not meet the threshold for the FBI to open an investigation. The fraudster will ask that the money be wired to them which makes it impossible to get back. Your best bet is to avoid being a victim. In April of 2014, CBS News talked to a man awaiting sentencing for his role in a scam in California. He told the interviewer “You can make $10,000, sometimes in a day, if you do it properly.” He also added that about 1 in 50 people would fall for the scam. The key was to get the person emotionally involved.
Here are ways to avoid falling for this con
- Slow down. Resist pressure to act quickly.
- Try to contact the grandchild, or another family member, to confirm the information (even if the caller said “don’t call, I don’t want them to be mad/worried/scared…”)
- Never wire money based on a phone or email request. It is like sending cash. When it is gone, it is gone.
- If it is concerning a person who is “in another country” The US State Department Office of Overseas Citizens Services (OCS) can be contacted at 888-407-4747. They can help you verify whether the situation is legitimate.
- US State Department – Office of Overseas Citizens Services
- FBI – the Grandparent Scam
- CBS News – The Grandparent scam explained: What you need to know
- Snopes – Distressed Family Member Scams
- Western Union – Fraud Awareness Videos YouTube