ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) – Attorney General Letitia James is warning seniors could be targeted by fraudsters posing as one of their grandchildren. Last year the Federal Trade Commission received 24,545 complaints of individuals impersonating family members and friends, with 1,359 of those complaints coming from New York.
The “grandparent scam” is a common phone scam in which seniors receive a call from someone claiming to be their grandchild. Emergency situations the scammer may use to create a sense of urgency include things like: a DWI arrest, mugging or a broken down car.
Scammers will often explicitly tell the grandparent not to call the grandchild’s parents because the parents will be mad or will worry too much.
“Due to COVID-19 restrictions, many grandparents have not seen their grandchildren for months and may be especially susceptible to this common and despicable scam.
I urge all New Yorkers to be on the alert for this type of fraud, and to protect themselves and their family members by following these tips. We should all be speaking with elderly family members and warning them that scammers are ready to prey on their love of family in an effort to take their money.”Attorney General Letitia James
The scammers, who sometimes pose as attorneys, bail bondsmen or law enforcement, often call in the middle of the night or early in the morning hoping to catch their victims when they’re not alert enough to ask questions.
Victims are often instructed that they have to mail cash payments or go out and buy prepaid debit or gift cards and to call back and read the serial number on the cards, allowing the scammer to immediately transfer the funds.
Thousands of dollars can be lost, and officials say the money is rarely recovered as the scammers could be calling from anywhere in the world.
Attorney General James offers the following tips to protect against the Grandparent Scam:
- Take a pause. Scammers create a sense of urgency to prey on victims’ emotions and their love for family members.
- Verify any supposed emergency by calling friends and family before sending money. This is especially important if a potential victim has been warned not to do so.
- A grandparent may think they would know whether they were speaking to their own grandchild or to an imposter, but it is easy to be fooled. The caller may be crying or the background may be noisy, or the caller may claim the connection is bad.
- If the caller purports to be a bail bondsperson, ask where the relative is being held and contact the facility directly. Grandparents can also call their local police department, where officers may be able to call the jail and confirm the story.
- Be suspicious of anyone who calls unexpectedly asking to be sent money.
- Never send cash through the mail.
- Never purchase pre-paid debit cards or gift cards for the purpose of transferring money.
- Develop a secret code or “password” with family members that can be used to verify the identity of family members over the phone.
- Ask a question that only the real grandchild would know the answer to, such as “what was the name of your first pet?”
- Set Facebook and other social media settings to private to limit information available to scammers, such as the name of grandchildren.