Hale Law Blog

Elderly Phone Scam Resurfaces Across Nation, Adapts to Established Suspicions

Some publications call it the “Grandparent Scam.” The phone rings, and the frantic, young voice on the line asks its grandparents for help. Typically, the caller claims to be trapped in jail and desperately in need of bail money. The voice is ashamed and scared; it begs its grandparents to keep the bail and the arrest a secret from parents. Other voices are put on the line. They claim to be judges, police officers and public defenders, all of whom insist that these scam victims need to wire money or send prepaid cash cards to their “grandchild” immediately.

Seniors can lose thousands of dollars in such scams. Victims rush out to send the money, so concerned for their grandchild’s well-being that they do not pause to doubt the circumstances of the call. Scammers rely upon their victims’ familial reactions. They know that some who answer the phone will respond emotionally long before they consider the situation rationally.

Law enforcement officials have reported a recent resurgence in the crime in recent months. The Grandparent Scam is not restricted to one group or one area. Within March of 2014, victims from North Carolina, Colorado, New York and Ohio have all reported the traps.

In North Carolina, Wake County police have suggested that the scams are growing more complex. Now, perpetrators may be gleaning information for use from social media sites. If a grandchild has a sufficiently detailed, publicly available Facebook profile, scammers may use it to enhance their impersonations for a grandparent.

MoneyGram, a Dallas money-transfer company, has issued a public warning against the scam. “While this scam has been around since 2008, it’s becoming more elaborate. As consumers become wise to it, the fraudsters are adapting, sometimes using email and social media to target victims, which makes the scam more difficult to detect,” warned Kim Garner, MoneyGram’s Senior Vice President of Global Security. Other wire-transfer companies include a warning against the scam directly on the forms needed to send money to the alleged “grandchild.”

Money wire and fund transfer phone scams are unfortunately common, and they can take many forms. The most crucial defense against them is information. If you receive, or if someone tells you they have received, a request for immediately wired funds, ask questions. Scams often collapse in their details.

If a “grandchild” needs help, he or she will be able to speak with you about facts, details and knowledge you share. After you end the call, call the number you know for your grandchild. Contact the police station supposedly holding him or her independently. Then, if you suspect a trap, contact your local police force, the Federal Trade Commission and the National Consumers League.

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