Grandparent Scams

Senior Citizens Are Favorite Targets of Scammers 

There’s an old saying that wisdom comes from age. Perhaps that’s one reason why the older we are the more everyone else sees us as trustworthy. And conversely less skeptical. Operators of “grandparent scams” know that seniors are also more likely to be at home during the day and, therefore, easily accessible by phone. Hopefully, we spent our working years raising families and saved up enough money to allow ourselves to retire in dignity and relative comfort. 

So, what would loving grandparents do if they get a phone call late at night informing them that their grandchild, who was traveling abroad, was in an accident? And hospitalized? And now had to pay the bill?  Or that the grandchild is under arrest and doesn’t have enough cash to post bond?  Or that robbers stole all the money the grandchild had? Would the grandparents assume the calls are a scam or would they rush to pay the money?

Grandparent Scams Look Real

They use spoofed caller IDs to erroneously identify themselves as calling from hospitals, police stations, attorneys’ offices, or embassies and consulates.  How do they know a grandchild is traveling abroad?  Sometimes they don’t and just make random calls on the assumption that mathematically they’ll eventually stumble upon grandparents who fit the bill.  But astute scammers will do their homework. That’s not hard to do. 

They can start by scouring Facebook groups to compile names of young adults touring on their own. Facebook profiles can be set to allow complete strangers to see your list of friends. Each list of friends can be set to indicate a familial relationship, including grandpa and grandma. Bingo. The grandparents may even list their phone number on their own profiles, but if not, they aren’t difficult to find. After all, the scammer now knows where they live, too. In very little time they can find all the details they need to convince the grandparents that their call is for real. They have the grandchild’s name, his or her last verified location and even the photos he took while abroad. 

Grandparent Scams Play on Our Emotions

The scammers will always put pressure on the grandparents by claiming that time is of the essence.  Often, someone will join the call (but only for a few seconds). He’ll quickly say “I’m your grandson” (grandsons are much more frequently targeted than granddaughters). And then maybe add a few words more like “Please send the money.” The grandson will probably pretend to be crying too in order to disguise his voice. That will put pressure the grandparents even more.  And then the scammer will tell the grandparents to transfer the money by wire or as gift cards (because they are hard to trace). Or, increasingly in cash via a parcel delivery service. Finally, they’ll tell the grandparents not to tell anything to the parents, at the grandson’s request.

Another version of grandparent scams plays on the perceived honesty of the elderly. One example is scammers posing as census takers. They first will ask their intended victims the types of questions that we expect from census takers: The names of everyone residing at the address, their dates and places of birth, occupations. And as the conversation comes to an end, after they gain the victim’s trust, they will ask for a credit card or bank account number — to be able to confirm the information with the bank, they’ll say. But that’s baloney. No census  requires such personal information. Scammers do in order to steal your money.   

How Much Do Grandparent Scams Cost Victims?

According to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, the average sum sent by relatives or friends of people who supposedly are in distress was about $2,000. But for senior citizens 70 years and older who are caught in this scam the figure is $9,000. That’s another reason why scammers prefer to target seniors. The estimate is that the total amount of money lost by U.S. residents as a result of grandparent scams surpassed $41 million in 2017. In 2016 it was $26 million. That’s a jump of over 63 percent.

According to one convicted scammer, he was able to pocket up to $10,000 a day, even though only one out of 50 calls he made convinced the grandparents. “We’ve had doctors and lawyers fall for this,” a spokesman of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) told CBS News. “It doesn’t matter what your educational level is because it triggers something emotional, it causes you to act.”

If you think you’ve been the victim of a grandparent scam, contact the fund recovery experts at MyChargeBack.

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