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September 1, 2010

Miller: "Grandparent Scam" Again Targets Older Iowans

(DAVENPORT, Iowa)  Following a series of recent complaints and reports of criminals targeting older Iowans by telephone and stealing thousands of dollars from one victim, Attorney General Tom Miller warns older Iowans about an apparent resurgence of the so-called “grandparent scam.”

This week, the Consumer Protection Division received several reports of callers targeting older Iowans by claiming to be a grandchild with an emergency need for cash.  The callers try to convince their victims to immediately wire a large amount of money to help pay for a sudden personal crisis, such as a car accident, medical emergency or even bail money.

A 79-year-old woman from Davenport was recently scammed out of approximately $8,000 when a caller, who claimed to be her grandson, frantically claimed he was jailed following a car accident and needed money for legal expenses and medical treatment for the other driver.  Another caller, who purported to be the grandson’s lawyer, bolstered the initial fraudulent claim and convinced the woman to go to a Davenport Walmart store and wire money.  Davenport police detectives determined the calls likely came from Canada.

Since January, police departments in Sioux City, Pella and Windsor Heights have warned their residents about the grandparent scam targeting their residents.

“Scams like these are about as low as they get, because they prey upon older victims who would do anything to help their loved ones,” said Attorney General Tom Miller, who first warned Iowans about this scam hitting Iowans in 2008.  “These scams surprise their victims and convey a sense of a relative facing an immediate need, so victims don’t have time to check out the story.”

Criminals sometimes glean personal information, including friends or relatives, from social networking websites like Facebook.  At other times they trick their victims into revealing the information, including names.

Miller encourages Iowans with older relatives to have a conversation about the grandparent scam and other telephone scams that target older Iowans.  “No matter how legitimate it may sound or how important it may seem to act immediately, take the time to check it out,” Miller said.  “One phone call could save you thousands of dollars and heartache.”  Miller also warned of the dangers of wiring money, which can be nearly impossible to trace and recover, and of providing credit card or bank account information by telephone.

Victims should contact police and the Consumer Protection Division immediately at 888-777-4590 outside of Des Moines, or 515-281-5926 in the Des Moines area.  The grandparent scam, which generally originates outside of the country and frequently from Canada, can be difficult to investigate.  But Iowa criminal and consumer investigators can forward the most current information to the “Phonebusters” anti-fraud hotline run by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and provincial police.  The Phonebusters toll-free number is 888-495-8501.

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