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Scamming Seniors is Big Business

Scam smartThe voice on the other end of the phone line sounds sweet and concerned. There has been some trouble, so he or she wanted to reach out to your beloved grandparents. Junior, who has been traveling, needs some cash fast. Maybe there was a police incident or fender bender. What a good pal! And a friend indeed, because the caller knows things like what sports teams your grandkid roots for, where he goes to school and what bands he listens to. Grandma and Grandpa are happy to send some money via a wire transfer, a bank routing number or a prepaid money card. And of course, they'll keep it a secret from Mom and Dad, who would just overreact. Once the cash is handed over, the truth comes out: The whole thing was a con.

A recent article from the Detroit Free Press tells us that in many instances, the victims don't see their money again, particular when it’s a wire transfer. The article, titled “Loving grandparents target of latest 'send money' scheme,”says that some Michigan grandparents were out $33,000 after being told their grandson was caught fishing without a license in Canada and had drugs and alcohol on his boat. This happens quite often, and many grandparents might be too embarrassed or scared to report it to relatives or police.

The National Council on Aging says that this Grandparent Scam is one of the top 10 cons targeting seniors. The FBI cautions grandparents to resist the urge to act quickly. Make sure you confirm the caller's story, as well as the grandchild's travel schedule.

The article explains that real selling point in this scam is the personal information fraudsters retrieve from Internet and social media that convince seniors that the caller knows their grandchild. Combine this with the fact that grandparents love their grandchildren and are eager to help them out.

The scam is kicking into high gear now that we’re in the summer travel season. The article warns that the scam can also come in various forms: like the caller posing as the grandchild, as a police officer, or as a lawyer. The call often comes late at night, waking grandparents and catching them off-guard. In other instances, scammers reach out via e-mail.

Grandchildren can do their part by educating grandparents about social media and all of seemingly "private" info anyone can find out about you; telling your grandparents about your travel schedule; and making an emergency contact plan (like who you would call first if something happened while you were away or choose a code word to use to prove that the caller is really your friend). And grandparents should remember the following:

Be suspicious if the caller doesn't use your grandchild's name, instead saying, for example, "I'm Nancy, your granddaughter’s friend." They likely are waiting for you to fill the blanks with a reply, like "You mean Lisa?”

Test the caller by asking a question only your grandchild would know;

Pay attention to the caller's voice and words, if he or she claims to be your grandchild. Does it really sound like your grandchild?

  • Don't react immediately;
  • Beware of phone calls in the middle of the night or ones in which you're asked not to tell the grandchild's parents about this;
  • Double-check all information the caller gives you. Contact the parents or other relatives, even if the caller asks you to keep it a secret;
  • Don't use a wire transfer, because if it's a scam, you won't be able to get it back; and
  • If you’re scammed, report it to your law enforcement.

Reference: Detroit Free Press (June 8, 2015) “Loving grandparents target of latest 'send money' scheme”

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