I’ve mentioned what’s called the “Grandparent Scam” before. It’s when crooks either randomly e-mail people or call them on the phone pretending to be a grandchild.
Sometimes the story is that the grandchild is injured in a far-away place, or sometimes the grandchild is in trouble and needs money for a lawyer or bail.
Back when I worked in television news, I can remember two cases vividly. One was a woman who got a random e-mail saying that her grandson had been injured while hiking in Canada and needed money for medical treatment. In this case, it just so happened that this woman’s grandson was camping in Canada. (The scammers didn’t have any inside scoop, they sent this message to thousands of people.) She transferred thousands to the crooks.
In a second case, a couple received a phone call where the person on the other end said, “Help me, Grandpa. I’m in trouble.”
The man said, “Joey?” thinking this was his grandson. Another man took the phone and identified himself as Joey’s lawyer. He told them Joey had been arrested in Nevada and needed money for an attorney. He also said he wanted payment in gift cards, which these people dutifully went around and purchased from various stores (just as instructed) and mailed off to a P.O. box. Sometimes the scammers want the money wired to them via services like MoneyGram or Western Union.
The story is almost always the same variation. The grandchild is in trouble or injured and the money has to be send ASAP. You get very little opportunity, if any, to speak to the supposed grandchild and ask questions. If you press the matter, the “lawyer” gets hostile with you.
As time has gone by, these scammers are getting more sophisticated. They’re purchasing donor lists for legitimate charities to target people who seem like they have a little cash to give. Then they turn to Facebook to make their scam sound more believable by looking up information on the folks on the list. They’ll scan Facebook profiles with lax security for information like the names of grandparents or grandchildren, schools, hometowns or even the family pet to make their scam sound more believable.
According to the Ohio Attorney General, the average loss in these scams is $4000.
It’s a good idea to a security checkup on your social media accounts to make sure only your friends and family can see your information. Click here to learn more about that.
If you receive a call or message and think there’s a possibility it might be legitimate, don’t do anything right away. Contact your family members and try to track down the person who is supposed to be in distress. If someone is supposed to be in police custody, call the police station in that town and tell them what’s happened. They’ll be able to tell you if there’s been an arrest. If someone is supposed to be injured, contact the authorities where the supposed injury took place.
Don’t send money via wire or a pre-paid card. That’s not how you would pay bail or a legitimate attorney. It’s also a good idea for your family to come up with a plan or code word that you would use to communicate in a real emergency.
Don’t let someone use panic as a way to scam you out of your hard-earned money.