August 7, 2014
Betty Logan* was at home in California when she received a call from her grandson. A college freshman studying in Arizona, Steve had gone to Mexico with friends and now was being held on phony drug charges by local authorities. Fearful that his parents would be upset about his trip across the border, Steve asked Betty if she could forward the funds necessary to pay off the corrupt cops. Frightened for her grandson, Betty told him that she first wanted to tell his mother about the incident. Two phone calls later, the first to Steve’s mom and the second to Steve’s cell phone, both women learned that he was safe at school. Steve was not being held by the Mexican police, nor had he ever stepped foot in Mexico. Betty then realized that she was the latest victim of the grandparent scam.
According to the FBI, the grandparent scam is a type of fraud that targets senior Americans. The imposters who commit these crimes typically pose as the grandchildren of unsuspecting victims. They gather extensive personal data about the young adults they impersonate and the seniors they target—and may even use information about extended family members—to convince their victims of their identities. Should they make contact via telephone, they sound young and bewildered, much like a grandchild in trouble would. Believing these very persuasive criminals, grandparents wire the requested funds, which can be thousands of dollars.
Though nicknamed the grandparent scam, anyone is vulnerable to the tactics of these fraudulent individuals. In some cases, it may be an older aunt, friend, or other loved one who gets the call or email. Some con artists also use accomplices to pose as authority figures so that their stories appear creditable, and all scammers prey upon the emotions of those they target.
These criminals collect as much personal information as possible so that their impersonations seem genuine. So to protect yourself from the grandparent scam, monitor carefully all confidential data. Never throw away mail with personal information on it without first shredding the documents. If you use social media such as Facebook or Twitter, be careful of what information you make public. Should you receive a call from a seemingly frightened and desperate friend or family member, avoid the urge to immediately comply with his or her wishes. Instead, hang up, call back the loved one in question and then contact the authorities.
*The names in this story have been changed for privacy reasons.
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