Well-meaning senior citizens who think they are helping a grandchild in distress are becoming victims of another wave of the so-called “grandparent scam.”
So far, the scam has targeted grandparents in more than a dozen states and provinces across the U.S. and Canada, and stolen as much as $19,000 from one victim alone. Hawaii's BBB has not received reports of the scam so far this year and hopes an early alert will help prevent local victims.
The grandparent scam has proven to be an extremely lucrative con for scammers. Fortunately, this is an easy scam to avoid as long as seniors are aware of it and don’t let emotions get the best of them.
Typically, the grandparent gets a frantic phone call from someone they are led to believe is their grandchild. While posing as their grandchild, the scammer claims to have gotten into trouble—often in Canada—and needs their help. The “grandchild” might report causing a car accident or being arrested for drug possession. In the new wave of calls, victims are also contacted by someone claiming to be a police officer or lawyer representing the grandchild in court.
The “grandchild” begs the grandparents not to tell the parents and asks them to wire thousands of dollars for reasons such as posting bail, getting car repairs, covering lawyer’s fees or paying hospital bills.
One couple in Wisconsin recently sent $19,000 to scammers posing as their grandson and his supposed lawyer. This scam has also targeted individuals in British Columbia, Connecticut, Idaho, Iowa, Kentucky, Manitoba, Massachusetts, Missouri, Nebraska, Texas, Utah, Washington and West Virginia.
Hawaii's BBB urges senior citizens and their families, caregivers and clubs talk about the grandparent scam and how to avoid it:
- If a caller says “It’s me, Grandma!” don’t respond with a name. Instead, say "Who's that?"
- Ask personal questions only the grandchild could answer, such as what you gave them for their birthday, a parent's address, sibling's middle name, or other information a stranger would not know.
- Do not share any personal information, including account numbers.
- Confirm the grandchild's whereabouts and status by calling their regular number, family members, school or workplace.
- Consider any request to wire money through Western Union or MoneyGram as a sign of a scam. Funds sent by wire transfer are hard to track and unlikely to be recovered.
If you or someone you know is a victim of this scam, report the incident immediately to the police, Attorneys General office, and Hawaii's BBB.
The Canadian Anti-Fraud Call Centre has set up a Web site and telephone hotline to report requests to wire money to Canada. Contact PhoneBusters online at www.phonebusters.com, or by toll-free phone call to 1-888-495-8501.