Age old scam heating up again
By Attorney General Roy Cooper
We all dread getting an emergency phone call. Now, imagine you get a call out of the blue from your grandchild in distress. Of course you want to do whatever you can to help. But what if the person on the line isn’t who they say they are? Scammers sometimes pose as grandkids to try to bilk money out of seniors and too many times, they’re successful.
The so-called grandparent scam has been around for years but is really heating up in North Carolina recently. My office heard from 13 consumers in 2010 who’d lost a total $25,000 to the grandparent scam. So far this year, 35 consumers have reported to us that they’ve lost more than $320,000 to scammers posing as grandchildren in trouble. We suspect that this is just the tip of the iceberg because elder fraud is widely underreported.
Con artists who use this ploy tend to prey on seniors who may suffer from memory or hearing loss. The caller claims to be a grandchild who needs money but wants to keep it a secret from their parents because they’re embarrassed or don’t want to upset them. The grandparent responds with their grandchild’s name, giving the scammer the information needed to complete the con. The caller then gives detailed instructions about how to wire them thousands of dollars.
A senior living near Greensboro got a call from a young woman claiming to be her granddaughter, asking for $5,700 to get out of jail in Charlotte. The caller was crying and kept saying, “Grandma, please don't tell Mom and Dad.” By the time her family learned about the scam and tried to stop the money transfer, it had already been picked up by the scammers.
A grandmother out of Charlotte lost even more money to the scam—$60,000. She believed she was paying for damage done by her 15-year-old grandson and 30 of his friends to cars in a parking lot, and feared that her grandson would be kicked out of school if she didn’t cover all of the costs.
People on social networking sites such as Facebook can fall victim to a similar scheme. The scammer hacks into someone’s account and posts a message for their friends saying that he or she is in trouble, often overseas, and needs money wired right away.
To avoid falling for these schemes:
- If you get a call or a message asking for help, hang up or log off and contact the friend or family member directly to make sure the request is legitimate.
- Ask the person questions that only your real family member or friend would be able to answer
- Never give out personal information to anyone who calls you on the telephone, emails you or contacts you online.
- Be careful when wiring money in response to a phone call, email or online message. Many scams start with a call and end up with victims wiring away their hard-earned money. Once the money gets picked up, it’s difficult if not impossible to get it back.