Trending Scam: Grandparent Scams

We have talked about the increase of scammers since the pandemic started and how to avoid them. But the FBI and local police are investigating an uptick in what is being called “grandparent scams.” In New Jersey and New York alone, roughly 100 victims have lost about $1 million in recent months, an official says.

Impostor scams

“The scams often begin when an older person is contacted by a criminal who poses as a panicked grandchild in need of thousands of dollars quickly for an emergency such as a hospital bill or bail money,” said the FBI’s Greg Takacs, an assistant special agent in charge in the bureau’s Newark, New Jersey office.

“It’s just so disgusting,” Takacs says, as these bad actors are preying on older folks and exploiting the love and sense of altruism they have for their family members.

Grandparent scams

These scams have evolved from previous scams, targeting a familiar audience, but with a new angle: pulling at victims’ heartstrings  A crook may pretend to be an attorney or bail bondsman in need of a large sum of money to help the victim’s grandchild, niece or nephew, relative, etc.

“In these days of coronavirus concerns, their lies can be particularly compelling,” FTC attorney Lisa Weintraub Schifferle warns. “They pull at your heartstrings so they can trick you into sending money before you realize it’s a scam,” she says. Resist the urge to act immediately, she adds, “no matter how dramatic the story is.”

Greg Takacs has been a lawyer for the FBI for more than 23 years and has extensive experience with scammers. Takacs’ own mother-in-law was telephoned by a grandparent scammer before Memorial Day. The scammer pretended to be Takacs’ son, alleging he was in trouble in an out-of-state locale where the family vacations. Thankfully, the grandmother did not take the bait, instructing the “grandson” to call his parents.

Trending scams

Since 2015, some 91,585 people have been victims of impostor scammers who purport to be family members or friends, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) says. Here’s a look at the number of such cases reported to the Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Sentinel Network. Cases totaled 91,585 from the beginning of 2015 through March 31 of this year.

Scam affects the whole family

Amy Nofziger, who directs AARP’s Fraud Watch Network helpline (877-908-3360), says the scams exact a financial and emotional toll on people; some have even lost their life savings.

“We’re all very emotional during these COVID-related times, and these criminals want to prey on your emotions,” she says. “And nothing is more emotional than thinking that someone you love is in trouble and needs your help.”

Even victims’ grandchildren or relatives manipulated in the scam, while blameless, are at risk to feel aftershocks of guilt and remorse, “so it’s really something that affects the whole family,” Nofziger says.

Protect your personal information

Unfortunately, there are many coronavirus scams out there right now. Be sure not to give out your personal information, Medicare number, Social Security number, or click on a link or open an attachment that comes from a source you do not know. Staying safe on the internet will help you stay safe and hold on to your assets at home. 

Scammers do their homework like searching on Facebook or other social media sources to make their scam as believable as possible. This is a reason why it is important to you and your loved one’s safety that you practice discreet posting on social media. Make your profiles private and share little personal information on the internet. Hackers and scammers can and will use anything they can find on the internet to manipulate their victims.

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