Grandparents often have a difficult time saying no to their grandchildren, and con artists know it.
According to recent news reports, scammers who have gained access to consumers’ personal information are using “spoofed” caller IDs and creating storylines to prey on the fears of grandparents. The scammers typically impersonate grandchildren in crisis situations, asking for immediate financial assistance, and they can “spoof” the caller ID that appears on the recipient’s phone to make the call look like it’s coming from a trusted source.
In one such report, a 75-year-old Arizona man was recently scammed out of $960, purportedly as a down payment on bail for his grandson for a DUI charge in Florida. According to the Daily Courier in Prescott, Ariz., one person impersonated the man’s grandson while another pretended to be the grandson’s lawyer. The pair said they needed the money immediately or the grandson would go to jail, and they went so far as to ask grandpa to keep everything hush-hush so the parents wouldn’t know.
In reality, there was no such arrest; however, the scammers had enough personal information to con the grandfather, who sent the payment.
Elsewhere, a Michigan woman was recently scammed out of $4,000, purportedly for bail money to keep her granddaughter, a college student at Michigan State University, out of jail, the Lansing State Journal reports. Again, the caller’s story was fabricated. Local law enforcement authorities said that caller ID is being spoofed to display as 9-1-1 in this type of scam.
A web search reveals several similar news stories with variations of this deception in the past few months.
The best advice for this type of scam, or any spoofed phone call? Hang up immediately. Or, if you have caller ID and you don’t recognize the incoming phone number, just let it go to voicemail. If you are concerned about a loved one, contact them, their family members or their friends directly to check on their well-being.
If you do engage in a conversation, though, follow these tips:
- Never give out personal information such as account numbers, Social Security numbers, mothers’ maiden names, passwords or other identifying information in response to suspicious calls or to callers demanding immediate action.
- Scammers can spoof the caller ID of their number to make it appear to be from a trusted source.
- If a caller claiming to represent a company or a government agency asks for personal information, hang up and verify the authenticity of the request by contacting the company or agency yourself, using information found on its official website or through other means such as the phone book.
- If a caller claims to represent a company with which you have an account – such as a utility or a bank – hang up and check the contact information on a recent bill or statement, then call the company back yourself.
Use caution if you are being pressured for information immediately. Scammers often try to bully victims into submitting to payment schemes that involve sharing credit card numbers, wiring money or purchasing gift cards or money orders. Be on guard for any such activity and report it to local law enforcement. You can also file a complaint with the FCC or the Federal Trade Commission (also check out ftc.gov/imposters).
Older Americans are often targeted by scam artists, and one of the best deterrents is consumer awareness. The FCC has consumer guides on spoofed caller ID and illegal robocalls with additional tips and web resources for call-blocking apps and services. If you are an older American or you have an older relative, friend or neighbor, share this information with them. You can also check out consumer awareness posts from AARP and the Better Business Bureau.
File a complaint with the FCC
Consumers can file complaints with the FCC about unwanted calls and spoofing, along with telecom billing, service issues and other matters the FCC oversees. Information about the FCC's informal complaint process, including how to file a complaint, and what happens after a complaint is filed, is available in the FCC Complaint Center FAQ.