Grandparents love getting calls from the grandkids, except when they come late at night. Hardly anything good comes when the phone rings after midnight.
Scammers, however, are licking their chops. They’re hoping you’ll pick up the phone and bite when you’re not thinking clearly that your grandchild is in some sort of financial or legal crisis.
That’s the grandparent scam.
While the scam has been around for a few years, AARP recently alerted members that criminals have become increasingly more sophisticated in how they target potential victims.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, there were nearly 354,000 complaints filed with its office in 2015 about all types of impostor scams. The FTC does not break out complaints about alleged grandparent scams. Still, only complaints about debt collectors and identity thieves outnumbered impostor scams last year, the FTC said.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation noted that grandparent scam calls have been tracked to several countries, including Canada, Mexico, Haiti, Guatemala and Peru.
By tapping into the internet and social networking sites, criminals can often uncover personal information about their targets, which makes their impersonations all the more believable, the FBI said.
The financial losses generally amount to several thousand dollars per victim, the FBI said. But that’s typically not enough to warrant a federal investigation.
The scam calls typically fit four common patterns, according to crime experts:
▪ A grandparent receives a call (or email) from a “grandchild.” The person claims to be traveling in a foreign country and has run into a problem, like a car accident, a mugging or being arrested for drug possession. The aim is to get money wired as soon as possible to a grandchild supposedly desperate for help — and not wanting his or her parents to know.
▪ Sometimes the “grandchild” doesn’t make the initial call. Instead, the criminal pretends to be a police officer, a lawyer or a doctor at a hospital. The FBI said it has even received complaints about the phony grandchild talking first, then handing the phone over to an accomplice to further spin the story line.
▪ Military families are frequent targets. A con artist, after scanning a soldier’s social networking site, will contact the soldier’s grandparents and claim that a problem has come up during military leave that requires money to correct.
▪ Despite being called the grandparent scam, criminals may also claim to be a family friend, a niece or nephew, or another family member.
How do you stay ahead of the cheats and deceits?
Don’t act quickly to send money, no matter how strong the urge. Verify the information by attempting to contact your grandchild. If you don’t have a number handy, try contacting another family member.
You’ll likely get a quick hang-up from the scammer if you ask a personal question or two, such as the name of the grandchild’s family pet or what holiday tradition was a favorite.
Keep in mind that wiring money is like sending cash. As the FBI notes, once you’ve sent it, you can’t get it back. And if any money is sent to another country, it’s even more difficult to recoup the scam loss.
Finally, report a potential scam to law enforcement. The FBI recommends filing a complaint with its Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov.
Steve Rosen: 816-234-4879