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A dangerous twist to the 'grandparent scam' emerges

Scammers now sending couriers to retrieve emergency funds for loved one 

The COVID-19 pandemic has left many elderly Americans isolated from their loved ones. As scofflaws often do, they have taken this vulnerability and turned it into an opportunity to line their own pockets.   

By playing on the emotions and concerns of older Americans, scammers have used the so-called “grandparent scam” — and a new twist on the scheme — to pilfer an estimated $500,000 from older Iowans in the last year.  

Law enforcement has reported that these scammers traveled through Iowa last summer and in early 2021.  

“We’re concerned that they’ll be back, and we urge Iowans to be vigilant — for themselves and for their loved ones,” said Attorney General Tom Miller.  

What Is The Grandparent Scam?

Patrick Waymire, assistant director for the Division of Intelligence and Fusion Center for Iowa's Department of Public Safety, detailed the "Grandparent Scam" during an interview with WOI-TV in Des Moines. Click the photo above to watch the interview.

For many years, scammers have used the grandparent scam to prey on older people claiming to be a grandchild with an emergency need for cash. The callers persuade their marks to immediately wire a large amount of money or provide a credit, debit or prepaid card number to help pay for a sudden personal crisis, such as a car accident, medical emergency or even bail money. 

In many cases, the caller will try to legitimize the ruse by providing personal details of the family member they obtained from social media accounts.  

Not long after the pandemic began, law enforcement officials began hearing of a  twist to this scam, in which the callers notify the victims that a courier will show up at their homes to pick up the funds. These couriers often work in groups and travel through a large region, targeting multiple older adults.  The details of the scam vary; in some cases, an individual representing him or herself as an attorney assures the victim that the call is legitimate and will tell the victim there is a gag order on the case so they cannot speak to anyone about it. 

After the initial payment, the grandparents will receive calls for additional money to then be sent via US Mail, FedEx, UPS, etc. 

In March, federal prosecutors in Indiana charged five people in a nationwide elder scam operation, which included elements of the “grandparent scam.”

To ensure your older family members are safe and don’t fall victims to such scams, it’s important to share the following tips.  

  • Set the privacy settings on your social media accounts. This allows only people you know to access your posts and photos. Scammers search Facebook, Instagram, and other social networks for family information they can use to fool you.    
  • Verify the person’s identity. Ask questions that a stranger couldn’t possibly answer. 
  • Don’t panic. No matter how dire the grandchild’s predicament sounds, do not panic. Scam artists want to get you upset to distract you from spotting the ruse. 
  • Resist the urge to act quickly or secretly. In a situation where someone is asking for money right now using fear, excitement, or sympathy, it’s probably a scam.  
  • Contact a trusted family member. Call a genuine phone number for your grandchild, another family member or friend to check out the story even if you’ve been told to keep it a secret. 
  • Report the scam to local law enforcement authorities. Scammers attack several residents and communities, so get assistance for yourself and help others avoid scam efforts.  
  • Don’t answer the door unless you know and trust the visitor. 
  •  Don’t send money. Don’t give out personal information, cash, wire money or send a check or money order by overnight delivery or courier. 

WOI-TV investigative reporter Rachel Droze spoke with an Iowa woman who fell victim to the "Grandparent Scam." Click the photo above to watch the news segment.

File a complaint:  

If you have been become the victim of a  scam, file a complaint with the Iowa Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division at consumer@ag.iowa.gov or 515-281-5926 (in Des Moines area) or 888-777-4590 (outside the metro area).  

You can also report these fraudulent schemes to the Federal Trade Commission at ftc.gov/complaint

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