There are many unscrupulous individuals committing telephone fraud and/or theft by deception especially upon innocent senior citizens. Perhaps one of the most contemptible is the resurgence during this pandemic of a scam extorting grandparents where the perpetrator asks for money for a grandchild who claims he or she is in trouble. With many seniors currently quarantining at home amid Covid-19, the emotional impact of such a call in addition to their already existing anxiety and isolation can be devastating.
A telephone call usually begins with an individual posing as a lawyer, a law enforcement official, a hospital administrator, or maybe a bail bondsman contacting the senior citizen on behalf of a grandchild. He often refers to the individual’s grandchild by his/her real first name, immediately getting the attention of the grandparent.
In some cases, the panicked “grandchild” — identifying himself by the first name of a real grandchild — gets on the line, pleading for a large amount of money for an emergency situation he finds himself in, such as a motor vehicle accident or an arrest involving lawyer’s fees, hospital bills, bail, or another fictitious expense. He is ironically out of state or out of the country, has no access to such a large amount of money, and needs funds immediately.
However, there are occasions when the senior citizen unknowingly “fills in the blanks” for the thief. The senior answers the phone, the scammer says something like, “Hi Grandma, it’s me, your favorite grandchild,” and the grandparent guesses the name of the grandchild the caller sounds most like. Many times, there is a lot of noise in the background, making the situation confusing. From there, the scammer takes on that grandchild’s identity for the remainder of the call.
All these factors, obviously, make the call all the more realistic to a now frightened grandparent; and the scammers are currently adding that the “grandchild” may contract Covid-19 if he/she has to remain in a jail cell or in a hospital for several days.
Based on love coupled with fear for the well being of their grandchild, many grandparents immediately react and respond to the request after listening to a heartbreaking story of apparent serious circumstances and listening to that family member pleas for assistance. According to AARP, Federal Trade Commission Consumer Sentinel Network statistics indicate that there were over 20,000 imposter scams in 2019 and between January and March of this year, there have been close to 5,000 already.
Unfortunately, those senior citizens who believe that the situation at hand is real become victims of telephone fraud and theft by deception. They withdraw large amounts of money from a bank to pay the fine, bail, hospital bill, etc. Sometimes they agree to allow the perpetrator to come to their home to pick up cash or agree to have a courier (sometimes unsuspecting Uber and Lyft drivers) pick them up to take them to the bank to make a withdrawal, obviously putting them in an even more dangerous situation. Other victims of such scams have sent money or gift cards through the mail to an out-of-state address where the family member is supposedly being held, sometimes instructed to hide the currency in a magazine. Others have wired large amounts of money through Western Union or MoneyGram to a person/address as instructed or provided a bank account and routing numbers. On very rare occasions, the transfer can be reversed; but cash is ultimately lost forever.
If you receive such a call, it is suggested to take a breath, always be skeptical and cautious, and not act immediately. Try to verify the caller’s identity and ask questions that a stranger probably wouldn’t have the answers to. A savvy grandmother asked her “grandson” what his last name was and why he wasn’t calling his parents — the scammer hung up. In another situation, in an effort to stall the caller, realizing this was probably a scam but not totally sure, a woman said she needed some time to access the $5,000 requested. The scammer, in this case, said he would call back in a half hour and actually gave her a telephone number to call him back. In that time, the victim called her grandson who lived out of state to find out he was fine. The scammer didn’t call back. When she reported the incident to her local police department with the telephone number she was given, it was explained that unfortunately, they were unable to trace the number because these perpetrators usually disconnect these telephone numbers as fast as they were set up or use burner phones.
The alarming part is that the scammers refer to the family member in trouble by an actual first name of the senior citizen’s grandchild, nephew, or neice. Obviously, many people post too much information on social media, allowing smart scammers to pick up on personal information. However, when a senior, such as the woman referred to above, doesn’t even own a computer or smartphone to be able to use any form of social media, it seems unexplainable. But rest assured, it happens, and those who do use social media should be careful what they post online.
Grandparent scams, whether by telephone or online through emails, are but one of many scams that criminals use to exploit the senior population. Fortunately, many of today’s seniors are not as vulnerable as some of these scammers believe. Other scams, many of which are aimed at senior citizens, are often inflicted on other age groups as well and include IRS impersonators, robocalls, sweepstakes scams/Jamaican lottery scams, computer tech support fraud, elder financial abuse, romance frauds, fake Social Security calls, lawsuit or arrest threats, and identity theft.