Written by The Herald-News
Don’t make the costly mistake of being fooled by clever callers.
Walter from East Helena called the AARP Montana state office with this request:
Q: I was recently the target of a “grandparent scam” where I got a call from someone claiming to by my grandson, Jonathan. He said he was on a church trip in Mexico and he was accused of something he didn’t do, and needed money wired quickly to be bailed out of jail.
The scary thing is, I actually do have a grandson named Jonathan and he was recently on a church trip in Mexico, and this con artist seemed to sound a lot like my grandson.
But because I was aware of this scam, I didn’t fall victim to it. My sister in Iowa, on the other hand, wasn’t so fortunate. She had never heard of this scam and she ended up losing $1,400 to a con artist claiming to be her grandson who had similarly gotten into trouble.
Maybe AARP could issue a reminder for folks to steer clear of this scam.
A: Thank you, Walter for your reminder. Unfortunately, this “grandparent scam” is alive and well out there and folks need to be aware of it because the best defense against fraud and scams is knowledge.
The grandparent scam is a variation of the “family emergency scam” where someone poses as a close friend or family member who has gotten into trouble and they urge you to wire money immediately. They may contact you via the telephone or send you an e-mail or text message. They’ll say they need cash to help with an emergency — like getting out of jail, paying a hospital bill, or needing to leave a foreign country. Their goal is to trick you into sending money before you realize it’s a scam.
We’ve also seen military families victimized: after perusing a soldier’s social networking site, a con artist will contact the soldier’s grandparents, sometimes claiming that a problem came up during military leave that requires money to address.
Here are some of the telltale signs of a family emergency scam:
Scammers Use Tricks — They impersonate your loved one convincingly. It’s surprisingly easy for a scam artist to impersonate someone. Social networking sites make it easier than ever to sleuth out personal and family information. Scammers also could hack into the e-mail account of someone you know. To make their story seem legitimate, they may involve another crook who claims to be an authority figure, like a lawyer or police officer.
They play on your emotions. Especially when grandparents are targeted, scammers are banking on their love and concern to outweigh their skepticism.
They swear you to secrecy. Con artists may insist that you keep their request for money confidential — to keep you from checking out their story and identifying them as imposters. Victims of this scam often don’t realize they’ve been tricked until days later, when they speak to their actual family member or friend who knows nothing about the “emergency.” By then, the money they sent can't be recovered.
They insist that you wire money right away. Scammers pressure people into wiring money because it’s like sending cash — once it’s gone, you can’t trace it or get it back. Imposters encourage using money transfer services so they can get your money before you realize you’ve been scammed.
If someone calls or sends a message claiming to be a family member or a friend desperate for money, follow these tips from the Federal Trade Commission:
•Resist the urge to act immediately, no matter how dramatic the story is.
•Verify the person’s identity by asking 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 wire money — or send a check or money order by overnight delivery or courier.
•Report possible fraud at ftc.gov/complaint or by calling 877-FTC-HELP. You may also contact the Office of Consumer Protection of the Montana Attorney General’s Office at 800-481-6896 or online at http://doj.mt.gov/consumer.
Scammers play on our emotions and generosity. They succeed by being clever, calculating, and often cruel. But they also succeed because their victims have not been forewarned. The old saying “the best defense is a good offense” is really true when it comes to scams and fraud.