If you have an email account, you are probably familiar with requests that show up in your inbox asking for personal and bank account information in exchange for a deposit to your account to help someone in a foreign country get money into the U.S. These scam emails are typically easy to spot since they usually have grammar and style mistakes—no capitalizations, misspellings, etc. Hitting ‘ALT-Delete’ usually takes care of these obvious scams with little to no effort on our part.
However, there is another scam that is ringing the phones of unsuspecting grandparents in our midst. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) refers to this as the “Grandparent Scam,” and it is targeting seniors throughout the country. The scam unfolds something like this:
Scammer: “Grandma? This is your grandson. I need a favor badly.”
Grandma: “Is this Jimmy?”
Scammer: “Err…of course, Grandma. I’m in Canada, and I’ve been arrested for drunken driving. Grandma, I swear I wasn’t drunk. I need a favor. I need $3,000 now, as a loan. I assure you it will be repaid as soon as I get back. Can you send the money?”
Grandma: “Are you in jail?”
Scammer: “Don’t worry, Grandma, I’m not in jail. I’m in a holding cell. I’m perfectly safe. Just do me this favor, please.”
These are not simply words I found on the FTC websitethey are the words of a Moneta client who asked me to share her experience with others. Before you assume this is a naïve grandmother sitting in a rocker knitting afghans, I assure you this is not the case. This client is a vibrant, active person interested in theatre, travel, politics, history and literature. Before that phone call, she would have told you she was aware of scams such as these, and that if confronted, she would never have fallen for one.
Why would this type of scam work? It’s simple: Grandparents love their grandchildren and want to help them whenever they can. When that phone call comes, lots of emotions quickly surface. What grandparent would allow their grandchild to remain in jail in Canada when they have the means to help them? What if the grandchild had never asked for anything before? A loving grandparent may view this request as one way to cement the relationship. So the emotional “What ifs” win over our rational response to check the facts as this scenario continues to play out in homes across our city, region, state and country.
The scammer, as part of the hoax, may tell you they have a cell phone that only allows dialing out. The easiest way to avoid falling victim to such a scam is to contact your grandson or granddaughter independently to check the facts. If your grandchild is really in trouble, he or she will understand your need to check out their story.
Another recommendation for avoiding the fraud is not to “fill in the blanks” for the scammer. The question “Is this Jimmy?” instantly gave the scammer information he needed to make the score. Your best strategy is to ask open-ended questions instead, such as, “Which grandchild is this?” “What is your pet’s name?” or “What school did you attend?” in order to determine whether the caller is actually your grandchild. Hopefully, once you start asking questions, the scammer will hang up and remove your phone number from the target list.
The FTC website lists other scams under investigation including “Operation Short Change,” spawned by the economic downturn, “Foreclosure Rescue and Loan Modification,” and “Living Trust” Scams. If you are a recipient of any unsolicited phone calls, please contact the Federal Trade Commission at 1-800-FTC-HELP or www.ftc.gov.
Unsolicited phone calls that ask for money are scams that are real, and even savvy people can get caught up in the emotions of the moment. That impulse—to help someone we care about—is used by scammers to make victims of people we know, respect and love. Please share this information with the people you care about.