Elder Fraud: How to Identify and Stop a Grandparent Scam
What is a grandparent scam? No, it is not when a child receives a “No” from their parents and then goes and asks their grandparents because they’re more likely to get the answer that they want. It is far more manipulative than that.
Traditionally, the grandparent scam would involve a criminal tricking a grandparent into believing their grandchild was in some sort of trouble that required money to help them out. While this type of scam is typically called a grandparent scam, the modern-day definition has expanded. Nowadays, when a fraudster contacts a potential victim, they may impersonate any loved one in distress, not just a grandchild. They may claim to be a family friend, niece, nephew, cousin, or another relative who is in a predicament. This predicament needs to be resolved fast, in the form of financial aid.
While grandparent scams often take place over the phone, be aware that they can occur in different forms. There have been reports of this type of scam happening through email and text messages.
WHY WOULD I GIVE A STRANGER MONEY?
There are many ways that scammers can sound convincing. In the past, they would rely on their ability to glean information from the interaction. They would steer the conversation for their target to unwittingly provide key details, such as the name of the fraudster’s assumed identity. Saying, “Hi, Grandma. It’s me, your grandson!” can prompt a response of, “Jonny, is that you? I haven’t heard from you in a while!” and provide the fraudster with a key piece of his assumed identity.
The use of today’s technology, particularly the information that is made available on social media, adds another resource for the scammer to use. When Jonny posts on social media that he is traveling out of state to go to college, the fraudster does not have to fish for Jonny’s name or that Jonny is out of state when he calls. He can find that information online and have a more plausible story from the start.
It is easy to think that you will not fall for a scam, but what about the phone call that comes late at night? The call where your grandchild tells you that they are in trouble and needs your help. The call where you cannot ask your grandchild more questions, because now you are talking to another person who tells you that he is a lawyer who can help.
He is hard to hear because of the commotion in the background. The lawyer is pressuring you to send money now because he can get this resolved. However, time is pressing; if you wait until the judge arrives, then there are going to be more fines to pay and your grandchild faces possible jail time. Little Jonny is embarrassed and did ask you not to tell his parents. After all, if you were in a bind, wouldn’t you want someone to help? Time is running out. What should you do?
ARE YOU PROTECTED AGAINST SCAMS?
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Chances are you have been targeted for a grandparent scam. Remember that the underlying building blocks for this scam are a sense of urgency and emotional intensity. The fraudsters want you to react quickly, without thinking through the conversation or their story. For this reason, grandparent scams will often occur late at night, when it can be difficult to think clearly and the sense of urgency is naturally higher.
WHAT STEPS CAN I TAKE TO AVOID BECOMING A VICTIM?
- Take a moment to breathe and slow your racing mind. If you need to get a callback number and disconnect the call to accomplish this, then do so.
- Resist the urge to give in and simply react to the situation. Instead, contact people who could help you determine if the call is legitimate and confirm the story you’ve been told. If your grandchild has been arrested, call the police department where they say that they are being detained. We have had members call the grandchild’s parents and learn that the child was sitting on the couch watching television.
- Be careful about what you share online and remind loved ones not to post sensitive information.
- Do not be pressured into giving out personal information or sending money. In a new twist, fraudsters are making arrangements to pick up the funds in person, either at the victim’s house or at a public location. Never agree to this; and if you do, contact your local police department immediately.
WHAT CAN I DO IF I’VE BEEN VICTIMIZED?
If you have sent funds and believe you have been victimized, there are several ways to prevent further damage, and possibly even undo it. First, contact the police. If you have sent the money via mail courier, contact the organization. They may be able to intercept the package. If you transmitted the funds by wire, it may be possible to recall the wire transfer if it hasn’t arrived at the receiving institution.
Ultimately, never rush to send funds based solely upon a random phone call, email, or text message. It is easier to do a little sleuthing up front than to try to recover any funds you have already sent.
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The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of VSECU.