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AARP warns of ‘grandparent scam’

August 11, 2018

Grandparents are encouraged to beware of a scam that targets them, with callers pretending to be the victim’s grandchild in trouble.

AARP said the “grandparent scam” will begin by the caller telling the victim that there has been an accident and that they’re in jail, the hospital or stuck in a foreign country and are in need of help.

“The caller adds enough details about how, what or where the emergency happened to make the story seem plausible,” AARP said. “And the distraught caller, you think to yourself, does sort of sound like your grandson or granddaughter.”

Oftentimes the caller will tell the victim that another person — usually a lawyer, doctor or police officer — will explain everything. And an attorney told AARP that this helps seal the deal for some skeptics who get these scam calls.

“This makes it seem more real when you call and talk to the authority,” said attorney Kati Daffan, assistant director of marking practices at the Federal Trade Commission.

Then the caller will ask the victim to send or wire money immediately. And the victim will get hooked in by the pleading final line, “Please don’t tell mom and dad,” AARP said.

This scam has been making the rounds for years, AARP said.

In 2017, nearly one in five people reported losing money to an impostor scheme, like the grandparent scam. The FTC reported a lost of $328 million in these scams. People over the age of 70 lost the highest average losses, FTC data showed.

“The scammers are very good at what they do,” Daffin said. “They make the story very convincing and urgent ... The stakes are incredibly high, and they’re good at pulling at your emotions.”

Some scammers will buy lead lists of people who have been scammed before, Daffin said. She said people who are older or people they can get a lot of personal information about are typical easy targets.

And where are they getting some of this personal information?

A lot of the time, it’s through social networking sites like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Daffin said some scammers will even go as far as to hack into a person’s email account and access their contact list to get names of relatives.

Anyone who gets a call similar to the grandparents scam should, first and foremost, refrain from panicking, Daffin said. She said to think of what they need to do to ensure it’s a real phone call.

“Verify the person’s identity by asking questions someone else couldn’t possibly answer,” she added. Some suggestions were the name and species of a grandchild’s first pet.

Despite what the impostor grandchild might say about keeping it a secret, AARP suggests you hand up and check with a family member or the person who supposedly called you.

A typical giveaway for it being a scam is often how the callers request the money.

The caller will usually ask for the money through a wire transfer service, an overnight delivery service or courier, or a prepaid card or gift card, in which case the scammer will ask you to read the numbers on the back of the car over the phone.

“That’s just like turning over cash to somebody,” Daffin warned. “Court systems and hospitals don’t accept gift cards as payment.”

To protect yourself from potential future scams, AARP suggests social media users amp up their privacy settings. The Consumer Federation of America said people should safeguard their email by using anti-spyware and antivirus software.

If you are a victim of a grandparent scam, or another form of fraud, you can report it to the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint or by calling 1-877-FTC-HELP.

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