An elderly relative phoned me the other day, concerned that she had been the target of an attempted scam. Somebody claiming to be her grandson had called to report that he had had a car accident while driving and was in the hospital, and she needed to send money immediately for his care. My relative told the caller to call his mother, hung up, and immediately made a call herself to the grandson’s mother. She discovered that he was safe at home watching TV (and didn’t drive in any event).
The call was a scam, a type of elder financial exploitation that targets the elderly and attempts to scam money out of them.
Luckily, my relative felt there was something off about the call and didn’t fall for the fraud, but many people do. Called the Grandparent Scam, this is an old scam that has once again become prevalent. Because this latest fraud hit close to home, I thought it would be helpful to alert readers to it.
In this scam, a caller claiming to be somebody’s grandchild (or niece or nephew), or calling on their behalf, states that they’re in trouble for some reason (accident, sickness, lost wallet or passport, stuck in a foreign county, etc.) and in immediate need of money. Many of these calls are made in the evening or nighttime hours, as some elderly may be less clear minded then.
Sometimes the caller uses an actual name taken from publicly available information, such as through social media, or they will wait for the panicked victim to say the child’s name. The scam caller will urge the “grandparent” not to tell Mom or Dad because they don’t want to get in trouble.
Ultimately, the scammer will ask the grandparent to send money via a method that’s hard to trace, like gift or reloadable cards, Western Union or MoneyGram, or by mailing cash. Once you send funds in this way, they’re gone for good, with few exceptions.
During the COVID pandemic, the FTC and FBI have seen an escalation in the number of grandparent scams, as scammers prey on victims’ increased vulnerability and concern for their loved ones’ health and safety.
If you suspect that somebody calling you (or texting or emailing) is a fraudster, slow down. Never act hastily. Contact the family member whom the caller says is in trouble, or a trusted person within the person’s circle, and check out the story. You can also try to verify the caller’s identity by asking them a question a stranger wouldn’t be able to answer. If the caller claims to be a police officer, verify the person’s identity and info they’ve given you by calling relevant law enforcement directly.
Do not provide any information. Hang up and report the call to local police, the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint (or by calling 1-877-FTC-HELP); and the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov.
For more information on grandparent/family emergency scams, visit the FTC’s site at https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0204-family-emergency-scams and the FBI’s site at https://www.ic3.gov/Media/Y2019/PSA190919.
The information contained in this column is provided for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice.
By Gille Ann Rabbin, Esq., CIPP/US, CIPP/E