North Carolina Department of Justice

North Carolina Department of Justice

North Carolina Department of Justice
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Age old scam heats up again


by Attorney General Roy Cooper

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 often, they’re successful.

Con artists who use this ploy claim to be a grandchild who is traveling, gets into trouble, and 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 often responds with their grandchild’s name, giving the scammer the information needed to complete the con, or sometimes the criminal already knows the grandkid’s name.  The caller then gives detailed instructions about how to wire them thousands of dollars.

The so-called grandparent scam has been around for years but is getting new life thanks to people sharing more information through social media.  Con artists will mine Facebook and Twitter to get personal information, including family members’ names and details of recent trips, to make the con more believable.

My office has heard from more than 150 consumers since January 2011who’ve lost a total of nearly $1 million to the grandparent scam.  We suspect that this is just the tip of the iceberg because elder fraud is widely underreported.

In most cases, the scammers instruct their victims to send money by wire transfer to countries outside the United States including Mexico, Peru, Costa Rica, Canada, the Dominican Republic, Dominica, Colombia and Greece. By the time victims realize they’ve been scammed, the overseas scammers have already picked up the funds.

A senior living in Smithfield fell victim to the grandparent scam when he got a call from someone posing as his granddaughter, claiming that she’d been in a wreck while traveling abroad and that law enforcement had found alcohol in her car.  She asked for money to pay for damages to the car and to prevent having a criminal record. The victim sent $5,000 to Pasto, Colombia. He later realized he’d been scammed when he saw a news segment on the grandparent scam.

To sound even more convincing, the scammer will sometimes have another person call on their behalf, claiming to be an attorney who represents them in their current legal troubles.

For example, grandparents in Hickory got a call from their grandson saying he’d had an accident in Greece and was under arrest. The scammer told the victims that the American Embassy provided him with a lawyer who would call them back. The supposed lawyer called the victims and said that all charges would be dropped if they paid for the damaged car. The next day, the original scammer called again, saying he wouldn’t be released until he paid for all property he destroyed. The victims wired him money more than $10,000.

To avoid falling for the grandparent scam:

  • If you get a call or a message asking for help, hang up or log off and contact the person directly to make sure the request is legitimate.
  • Ask the person questions that only your real family member 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 what you post on Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites. Adjust the privacy settings on social media accounts so that you know who has access to your information.
  • 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.