The so-called “grandparents scam” is an ugly crime that can bilk senior citizens out of thousands of their hard-earned dollars when criminals call them impersonating their grandchildren in distress.
And this virulent ongoing scam is taking a turn for the worse because it’s going cash-only.
Know the warning signs of the ‘grandparent scam’
According to a new report from the Federal Trade Commission, there’s been a spike in reports from senior citizens age 70+ who say they were duped into sending cash to fraudsters impersonating their grandchildren.
The FTC says 25% of victims 70 and over sent cash to fraudsters in this scam. That’s compared to just 4% of senior citizens sending cash to criminals in other unrelated scams.
Criminal use of the grandparents scam has gotten a lift from social media because the crooks can comb the social profiles of both seniors citizens and their grandchildren easily on Facebook and through a variety of other sites like MyLife.com.
Here’s how the phone part of the grandparent scam might go:
The phone rings and a senior citizen picks up…
Scamster: (in a low tone) Grandma?
Senior: Is that you, Jimmy?
Scamster: Yes, it’s me and I’m in trouble. I’m in jail. I need you to send money so I can get out.
The fraudsters will often say they’re in trouble with the law or other legal peril. Another popular pretense is that they’ve been involved in a car accident — they’ll often mention texting or drinking while driving, according to the FTC.
By doing so, the criminals exploit the senior citizen’s sense of loyalty. They tell them they couldn’t possibly call their parents, so the grandparent was the only one to turn to.
When it comes to getting money out of the senior citizens, the criminals often ask their marks to send cold hard cash in very particular ways — between the pages of a magazine, for example — via carriers like UPS, FedEx and the U.S. Postal Service.
A whopping $41 million was lost by senior citizens in the grandparents scam between October 31, 2017 and October 31, 2018.
The FTC says that people 70 and over who send cash in this scam report median individual losses of $9,000!
And though the FTC’s article doesn’t mention it, there’s even the potential for a “reload” on this scam whereby the same unlucky grandparent can get taken twice.
If the scamster gets money the first time, they’ll often have another person call up impersonating a police officer and ask for additional funds in order for their grandchild to supposedly be released from jail.
In this case, they’ll often use the excuse of extra charges for property damage to justify the second money grab.
The FTC recommends that you take several steps to lessen the chances you’ll fall prey to the grandparent scam:
- Limit what info you make public on your social media profile so there’s not a lot there for the criminals to work with.
- If you get the call, hang up the phone and call the supposed grandchild back at a number you know to be legitimate. Then verify the details of the account.
- Take a deep breath; don’t act impulsively and send money the minute you are instructed to do so.
- If you do mail cash in a moment of panic, alert the shipping company immediately. You may be able to stop delivery if you have your tracking number handy.