Grandparents often have a hard time saying no to their grandchildren, which is something scam artists know all too well.
Scammers who gain access to consumers' personal information – by mining social media or purchasing data from cyber thieves – are creating storylines to prey on the fears of grandparents. The scammers then call and impersonate a grandchild in a crisis situation, asking for immediate financial assistance. The callers may “spoof” the caller ID that appears on the recipient's phone to make an incoming call look like it's coming from a trusted source.
In a recent report from the FBI in Buffalo, N.Y., a caller contacted an elderly person in western New York state and claimed to be a grandchild who had just been in a serious car accident and arrested for drunk driving. The imposter pressed the grandparent for money to post bond, then passed the phone to someone else who claimed to be the caller's attorney.
That phony attorney told the grandparent to come up with approximately $15,000 in cash and to put it in an envelope to be picked up at their house by a courier at a designated time. When the courier arrived, the unsuspecting grandparent handed over the cash. The FBI reports that these scams may use ride-share companies to retrieve the cash from victims.
Several variations of this con have surfaced over the years. The U.S. Postal Inspection Service recently published an article about grandparent scams, with videos of victims sharing their stories to help raise awareness of this criminal tactic.
The best advice for avoiding this type of scam, or any suspicious phone call, is to hang up immediately. If you have caller ID and you don't recognize an incoming phone number, just let it go to voicemail.
If you do wind up in a conversation, use caution if you are being pressured for information or to send money quickly. Scammers often try to bully victims into transferring money through a mobile payment app, by wiring money, or by purchasing gift cards or money orders. If you receive a call like this, report it immediately to local law enforcement.
One of the best deterrents against scam artists is awareness. The FCC offers consumer guides on spoofed caller ID and illegal robocalls, with additional tips and web resources for call-blocking apps and services. You can also check out consumer awareness posts about scams targeting older Americans from the Better Business Bureau, or find out about scams near where you live using the AARP's Scam-Tracking Map.
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