You’re a grandparent and you get a phone call or an e-mail from someone who identifies himself as your grandson. “I’ve been arrested in another country,” he says, “and I need money wired quickly to pay my bail. And oh, by the way, don’t tell my mom or dad because they’ll only get upset!”
This is an example of what has come to be known as “the grandparent scam”— a fraud that preys on the elderly by taking advantage of the love and concern they have for their grandchildren.
Thanks to social networking sites on the internet, criminals can easily uncover personal information about their targets, making the impersonations more believable. For example, the actual grandchild may mention on his or her social networking site that he or she is a photographer who often travels to Mexico. When contacting the grandparents, the phony grandchild will say he or she is calling from Mexico, where someone stole his or her camera equipment and passport.
Common scenarios include:
- A grandparent receives a phone call (or sometimes an e-mail) from a “grandchild.” If it is a phone call, it’s often late at night or early in the morning when most people aren’t thinking clearly. Usually, the person claims to be traveling in a foreign country and has gotten into a bad situation, like being arrested for drugs, getting in a car accident, or being mugged…and needs money wired immediately. The caller does not want his or her parents to know.
- Sometimes, instead of the grandchild making the phone call, the criminal pretends to be an arresting police officer, a lawyer, a doctor at a hospital, or some other person. Sometimes the phony grandchild talks first and then hands the phone over to an accomplice to further spin the fake tale.
- Military families have also been victimized. After perusing a soldier’s social networking site, a con artist may contact the soldier’s grandparents, sometimes claiming that a problem came up during a military leave, and in order to resolve the issue, a wire transfer or bank deposit is necessary.
Commonly called the grandparent scam, criminals may also claim to be a family friend, a niece or nephew, or another family member. For more information visit www.fbi.gov.
To avoid being victimized in the first place:
1. Resist the pressure to act quickly.
2. Try to contact your grandchild or another family member to determine whether or not the call is legitimate.
3. Never wire money based on a request made over the phone or in an e-mail…especially overseas. Wiring money is like giving cash—once you send it, you can’t get it back.