“Grandma: I’m in the hospital, sick, please wire money right away.” “Grandpa: I’m stuck overseas, please send money.” Grandparent scams can take a new twist – and a new sense of urgency – in these days of Coronavirus. Here’s what to keep in mind.
In grandparent scams, scammers pose as panicked grandchildren in trouble, calling or sending messages urging you to wire money immediately. They’ll say they need cash to help with an emergency – like paying a hospital bill or needing to leave a foreign country. They pull at your heartstrings so they can trick you into sending money before you realize it’s a scam. In these days of Coronavirus concerns, their lies can be particularly compelling. But we all need to save our money for real family emergencies.
So, how can we avoid grandparent scams or family emergency scams? If someone calls or sends a message claiming to be a grandchild, other family member or friend desperate for money:

  • Resist the urge to act immediately – no matter how dramatic the story is.
  • Verify the caller’s identity. Ask questions that a stranger couldn’t possibly answer. Call a phone number for your family member or friend that you know to be genuine. Check the story out with someone else in your family or circle of friends, even if you’ve been told to keep it a secret.
  • Don’t send cash, gift cards, or money transfers – once the scammer gets the money, it’s gone!

For more information, read Family Emergency Scams. And if you get a scam call, report it to the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint.
(This blog is part of the FTC’s imposter scam series.)

Image and Source: Consumer FTC

Scam artists will use any leverage they can get to separate you from your money. Sadly, that includes exploiting grandparents’ love and concern for their grandchildren, giving rise to a breed of impostor fraud specifically targeting older Americans.
Grandparent scams typically work something like this: The victim gets a call from someone posing as his or her grandchild. This person explains, in a frantic-sounding voice, that he or she is in trouble: There’s been an accident, or an arrest, or a robbery. To up the drama and urgency, the caller might claim to be hospitalized or stuck in a foreign country; to make the impersonation more convincing, he or she will throw in a few family particulars, gleaned from the actual grandchild’s social media activity.
The impostor offers just enough detail about where and how the emergency happened to make it seem plausible and perhaps turns the phone over to another scammer who pretends to be a doctor, police officer or lawyer and backs up the story. The “grandchild” implores the target to wire money immediately, adding an anxious plea: “Don’t tell Mom and Dad!”
Fraudsters have also been known to ply this trick by email, text message and social media. Amid the coronavirus pandemic, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the FBI have warned of an uptick in grandparent scams as crooks play on emotional vulnerability and heightened fear about loved ones falling ill. 
Grandparent scams and related cons are common — from 2015 through the first quarter of 2020, the FTC  logged more than 91,000 reports of crooks posing as a relative or friend of the victim. And they can be lucrative: A New York City man was charged in May 2020 in an alleged scam spree that bilked five-figure sums from grandparents across New Jersey, according to state and federal investigators. 

Warning Signs

  • The person claiming to be your grandchild asks you to send money immediately and provides details on how — for example, via prepaid cards or to a particular Western Union office.
  • The call comes late at night. Scammers figure an older person may get confused more easily if they call then, the National Consumers League warns.
Do’s
  • Do set the privacy settings on your social media accounts so that only people you know can access your posts and photos. Scammers search Facebook, Instagram and other social networks for family information they can use to fool you.
  • Do ask questions someone else is unlikely to be able to answer, such as the name and species of your grandchild’s first pet.
  • Do say you’ll call right back, then call your grandchild’s usual phone number. With luck, he or she will answer, and you’ll know that the supposed emergency call is a scam.
  • Do contact other family members or friends and see whether they can verify the story. Scammers plead with you to keep the emergency a secret precisely so you won’t try to confirm it.
  • If you speak to someone who claims to be a police officer, do call the relevant law enforcement agency to verify the person’s identity and any information they’ve given you.
  • Do trust your instincts. As the American Bar Association advises, if something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.
Don’ts
  • Don’t drop your guard because the number on your caller ID looks familiar. Scammers can use technological tricks to make it appear that they’re calling from a trusted number, the Federal Communications Commission warns.
  • Don’t volunteer information — scammers fish for facts they can use to make the impersonation believable. For example, if the caller says, “It’s me, grandpa!” don’t say your grandchild’s name. Wait for the caller say it.
  • Don’t let a caller rush you into making a decision.
  • Don’t send cash, wire money, or provide numbers from gift or cash-reload cards to a person claiming to be a grandchild. Scammers prefer those payment methods because they’re difficult to trace.
  • Don’t panic, no matter how dire the grandchild’s predicament sounds. Scam artists want to get you upset to distract you from spotting the ruse.

Source: AARP

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