phone-scam-breakdownThe first step in protecting against phone scams is understanding how they work. That’s why we’re starting a new series on the blog, breaking down some of the newest and most popular phone scams circulating among businesses and consumers.

The Scam

Your grandmother is the sweetest, kindest, best grandmother you know. She’s always there to bake you cookies, knit you a sweater, and send you a birthday card with a little cash in it. She’s always looking for little ways to help out her favorite grandchild.

So, it’s no wonder you called her last week when you got in trouble with the law. You had been traveling overseas, and got arrested – it was all a big misunderstanding. You couldn’t go into details just yet, as you didn’t have much time, and the connection was spotty. You just needed her to quickly wire some money to pay your bail. Of course, she ran straight to the store to send it.

At first she thought it was strange when she saw you last week and you didn’t thank her for the money or mention the trip. But then she decided you must not have wanted your parents to know about the arrest, so she played along and kept quiet about it too.

Here’s What Really Happened

Of course, you weren’t really arrested overseas. In this common attack, scammers prey on grandparents, who may not always be up to date on where their twenty-something grandchildren are. Scammers call, pretending the grandchild has gotten into some trouble and needs cash quickly. The complicated social dynamics of the situation mean that many grandparents never even realize that it was a scam, or don’t want to admit that they’ve been conned because it could mean they lose their independence. According to the FTC, only about 8 percent of victims report this scam.

A few of the techniques fraudsters use for this scam are:

  • Social Media Reconnaissance – Scammers do their homework on your family, checking social media profiles and other online sources to learn grandchildren’s names, and sometimes even their travel plans.
  • Intimidation – Con artists use scare tactics to intimidate grandparents into paying quickly. They might imply that the grandchild is in physical danger or living in bad conditions in a jail overseas.
  • Wire Transfers – Scammers typically ask grandparents to send a wire transfer. With a reference number and a phony ID, they can retrieve that money anywhere. Because wiring money is like sending cash, once the grandparent sends it, they can’t get it back.

Grandparent Scam Examples

The Grandparent Scam – In April, the New York Times ran a personal essay from novelist Christine Sneed. Sneed recounted the story of how fraudsters called her grandfather, pretending that she had lost her passport while traveling in Spain. Her grandfather wired $6,000 to help. But when he found out it was a scam, he lost his trust in the phone, and no longer took his granddaughter’s calls.

Guilty Plea in Scam That Targeted Grandparents Nationwide – Last week, a New York City man admitted to taking part in a grandparent scam that swindled 17 people out of thousands of dollars. The callers tricked victims by saying a grandchild had been arrested on drug charges.

Grandmother Out $7,000 in ‘Grandparents’ Scam – In this scam, the attackers didn’t even know the name of the 81-year old woman’s grandchildren. Instead he simply said “Grandma – It’s me” before handing the phone over to a man claiming to be a lawyer needing payment.

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