Fight grandparent scams on Grandparents Day
By Attorney General Roy Cooper
Many families call their grandparents each year to mark Grandparents Day, which falls on September 11 this year. But unfortunately seniors across the country get calls year-round from scammers out to take advantage of grandparents’ love for their grandkids.
The con starts with a caller who says “Grandma/grandpa, it’s me!” The grandparent often responds with his or her grandchild’s name, giving the scammer more information to make the con sound legitimate, but sometimes the criminal already knows the grandchild’s name. The scammer pretends to be in distress—injured, in trouble with the law, or in danger while traveling abroad—but says they don’t want mom or dad to know about it. They may also ask the grandparent not to call them back on their mobile phone, saying that it’s been confiscated or damaged. Then they ask the grandparent to send thousands of dollars through wire transfers or by loading money onto gift cards. Victims usually don’t know they’ve been scammed until the money is gone for good.
Some North Carolina grandparents have reported losing as much as $60,000 to scammers posing as their grandkids in distress.
Social media has made this scam more sophisticated, and more believable. Con artists use names, personal information, and travel details that grandchildren share on their Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts to make their calls sound credible.
Our Consumer Protection Division has received 141 reports of grandparent scam attempts this year alone, and 31 of these seniors became victims, losing more than $143,000 combined. Individual losses reported so far in 2016 range from $1,250 to $15,000.
To fight grandparent scams, my office worked with other government agencies to push wire transfer companies and financial institutions to spot and stop fraud-induced cash transfers before the money is lost. North Carolina victims losing less money to this scam on average—around $4,600 each this year compared to $20,967 in 2015—is a sign that these efforts may be paying off.
On your next call to grandma and grandpa, let them know about grandparent scams and talk through what they should do if they ever get one of these calls. Elder fraud is a widely underreported problem, so we know there are likely more seniors affected by grandparent scams than report them. Learn how to spot grandparent scams, and educate senior friends and family about this fraud.
To avoid grandparent scams:
Don’t answer calls from phone numbers you don’t recognize or emails from addresses that aren’t familiar to you.
Beware of anyone who asks you to send money immediately, no matter the reason.
Don’t share information about you or your family with anyone you don’t know who calls, emails, or contacts you through other means.
If you get a call or a message asking for help, hang up or log off and contact the person directly at a number you know is theirs to make sure the request is legitimate.
If someone claims to be a loved one, ask the person questions that only your real family member would be able to answer.
Share carefully on social media. Make sure your privacy settings prevent strangers from accessing information about you or your family.
Never wire or send money in response to a phone call, email or online message. Once the money has been received by a fraudster, it’s almost impossible to get it back.
If you or a loved one experiences a grandparent scam, report it to my Consumer Protection Division toll free at 1-877-5-NO-SCAM or file a complaint online at ncdoj.gov
Attorney General Roy Cooper and his staff want to North Carolina consumers to get the most for their money. We’re here to be of service when you need us. Through efforts like these Consumer Columns, we hope to help North Carolinians avoid problems ahead of time.