One day while sitting in my office, an elderly customer came to me in a panic, stating that she needed to wire some money immediately to her grandson in Mexico. She explained he had called her earlier that morning, crying and telling her he had been pulled over in Mexico and arrested. He told her he needed money wired to the police department right away, or he was going to be thrown in jail. As you can imagine, my customer was quite distraught and wanted to act quickly to help her grandson.
After reassuring her we would figure this out, I began asking her some questions. “What exactly did your grandson say?” “Were you aware that he was taking a trip to Mexico?” “How do you know it was actually him you were speaking to?” Through the series of questions and answers, it became evident that my customer was being scammed.
Given the distress she heard in her grandson’s voice; however, she was not easily convinced. In order to help put her at ease, I offered to call her grandson to verify his situation. She explained she did not have his phone number, so instead we opted to call her son. When we got her son on the phone he was able to verify that not only was her grandson not in Mexico, but he was spending the day at the beach with his friends. My customer felt so relieved and grateful that she had not sent out any money yet.
Unfortunately, this story is not unlike many others and is a textbook example of the Grandparents Scam.
What is the Grandparents Scam?
While the Grandparents Scam can differ in this particular scenario, the common idea is to dupe an unsuspecting grandparent into sending money to the fraudster by playing on their emotions. The emotional aspect, as well as creating a strong sense of urgency, is key in making these scams successful. In many instances, the caller will state there is some type of emergency and time is of the essence. The caller will ask the victim to send money right away, or there may be dire consequences. In the example above, if the customer did not send the money, her grandson would have been placed in jail.
Other scenarios may include a broken-down car and money needed for repairs; the caller has been mugged or was in an accident of some kind; or perhaps the caller is trapped in another country and needs money to pay customs fees. On occasion, the caller may also pose as an authority figure, such as a lawyer or police officer, in order to further incite urgency with the victim. Regardless of the scenarios presented, the victim is always asked to send money.
How fraudsters pick their victims
So, how do these fraudsters pick their victims? Sometimes it is by random calling and others may be more targeted using marketing lists or information found online. In some cases, the fraudsters could have done their homework and may use relatives’ names found through various sources. This approach will make the story more convincing to the victim.
Tips to protect yourself
In order to protect yourself from becoming a victim of a Grandparents Scam, it’s important to not react too quickly! Keep in mind, this is what the fraudsters want. Take the time to question the information. Contact the person directly or other known relatives to try to verify if what the caller is telling you is accurate. Before sending out any money, talk to your banker and allow them to help assist in verifying the information. It is important to take these steps as fraudsters are becoming more and more adept at taking advantage of unsuspecting individuals, and once the money is gone, you most likely won’t be able to get it back.
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