The Better Business Bureau is warning well-meaning senior citizens about emergency scams designed to fool them into thinking that their grandchild is hurt, arrested or stranded, and in need of money.
The grandparent scam has been around for a few years. The Internet Crime Complaint Center has been receiving reports about it since 2008. According to recent FBI reports, there has been a recent surge in the scam. Retirees are an attractive target for financial scammers. Emergency scams play off of peoples' emotions and strong desire to help others in need. Scammers impersonate their victims and make up an urgent situation, such as a mugging, arrest or a hospitalization, and target friends and family with urgent pleas for help, and money.
"The scam and scam artists have become more sophisticated as well," said Warren Clark, Better Business Bureau president. "The Internet and social networking sites offer an invitation for criminals to uncover personal information about their targets, which makes the impersonations more believable."
In one case, a grandson mentioned on his social networking site that he's a photographer who often travels to Mexico. When the grandparents were contacted by a phony grandson they said they were calling from Mexico, where someone stole his camera equipment and passport - making the ploy seem believable.
The Better Business Bureau offers the following tips to avoid the Grandparent Scam:
Communicate - teens should share travel plans with family members before leaving the state or country.
Share information - teens should provide the cell phone number and email address of a friend they are traveling with in the case of an emergency. Family members should remind students to be cautious when sharing details about travel plans on social media.
Know the red flags - typically, the grandparent receives a frantic phone call from a scammer posing as their grandchild. The "grandchild" explains that he or she has gotten into trouble and needs help, perhaps caused a car accident or was arrested for drug possession. The "grandchild" pleads to the grandparents not to tell his or her parents and asks that they wire thousands of dollars for reasons posting bail, repairing the car, covering lawyer's fees or even paying hospital bills for a person the grandchild injured in a car accident.
Ask a personal question, but don't disclose too much information. If a grandparent receives a call from someone claiming to be their grandchild in distress, BBB advises that the grandparent not disclose any information before confirming that it really is their grandchild. If a caller says "It's me, Grandma!" don't respond with a name, but instead let the caller explain who he or she is. One easy way to confirm their identity is to ask a simple question that the grandchild would know such as what school he or she goes to or their middle name.
The financial losses in these cases typically don't meet FBI financial thresholds for opening an investigation however it is important to report the crime. The FBI recommends contacting local police or New York State Consumer Protection agency for those who think they've been scammed. It is also suggested to file a complaint with IC3.gov, which forwards complaints to the appropriate agencies, but it collates and analyzes the data, looking for common threads that link complaints and help identify the culprits.