It’s one of the most heartbreaking scams that Iowans report to the Consumer Protection Division. A criminal exploits an elderly person’s unwavering love, caring and instinct to help a grandchild or young relative in need. By claiming that he is a grandchild or a relative in serious trouble and needing immediate financial help, the caller tricks his elderly victim into letting down his or her guard. The Grandparent Scam has been around for several years but continues to target older people across Iowa and across the country. Some victims have lost tens of thousands of dollars.
The Surprise Call
You answer the phone to a distraught-sounding caller who refers to you as “Grandma” or “Grandpa.” Unsure who it is, you respond with the name of your grandson, and the caller tries to convince you that it’s really him. Or maybe the caller already knew your grandchild’s name because he found it posted on a Facebook page or somewhere online.
The Surprise Claim
The “grandson” claims he’s in another country and has landed in some sort of trouble. The story can include a car accident, an arrest, a mugging, or an emergency medical situation. The caller may even put others on the line who identify themselves as law enforcement officers, attorneys, bail bondsmen or medical professionals.
Not a Surprise: The Caller Wants Money Now
A Grandparent Scam caller always claims an emergency need for money, insists that you to need to act quickly, and pressures you to keep it quiet.
The criminal will try to convince you to wire the funds or deposit money into a prepaid money card account. That enables him to almost instantaneously receive a large amount of cash anywhere in the world, and the transaction may be impossible to stop or trace. He’ll want you to act quickly so you don’t take time to check out the story. And he’ll insist that you keep this situation to yourself or might give you suggested responses should someone ask about the large transaction. The criminal knows that anyone who learns about the circumstance will try to stop it.
The Best Prevention is Communication
If a caller claims he needs emergency money--no matter who you think it is and what he tells you--do not act immediately to acquire and send money, do not be ashamed about asking questions, and do not keep it a secret. If the caller claims he is your grandson, ask him a personal question that only he would know (for example, ask about a pet, a previous vacation or an allergy). Ask the caller for his contact information, or better yet a public number like a police station, hospital or hotel, and let him know that you will get back to him soon. If it’s truly your grandson, he’ll provide you needed contact information. If it’s someone else on the phone, he or she should be able to provide a number you can find listed on the Internet. Call your local police department or sheriff’s office, as law enforcement can verify the story. Contact another family member (such as a parent or sibling of the grandchild) or someone you trust, and ask that person to help you.
If you have an older relative who could fall victim to the Grandparent Scam, discuss it with them. Make sure they have your current contact information and inform them if you travel abroad. Be sure they understand the pitfalls of posting personal information online.
If You’ve Been Scammed
Unfortunately, these scams almost always lead to unrecoverable losses because wiring money is like sending cash. If you think you’ve been victimized by a wire fraud, contact the wire transfer company immediately. If the criminal has not yet picked up the cash, it may be possible to stop the transaction. Report the incident to your local law enforcement agency. You can file a report with the federal Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov, and you can also report it to the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division.