With college students settling in on campus, many of them living away from home for the first time, Better Business Bureau warns consumers to guard against the so-called “grandparent scam.”
Scammers will call family members and pretend to be a child, grandchild or friend who has run into a difficult situation, often while traveling. The scammer may claim to have been arrested, mugged or hospitalized and make urgent pleas for money. These emergency scams are often called “grandparent scams” because they target senior citizens.
Receiving a frantic phone call may scare people into letting their guard down, but BBB encourages everyone to make sure they know signs of this scam. If you get such a call, resist requests to send money immediately. Ask for a phone number to contact the person back, then check with other relatives to confirm the location of the person in question.
Requests for you to send money by Western Union, MoneyGram, a prepaid card like Green Dot or MoneyPak, or a digital payment app like Zelle are often a scam.
Consumers nationwide have reported about 450 “family/friend emergency” scams to BBB Scam Tracker in the last three years.
A Cape Girardeau woman reported receiving a call last fall from someone claiming to be her grandson, saying he had been jailed after a car accident and asking her to pay $9,500 to an attorney. Immediately after the woman hung up, she received a phone call from a man claiming to be her son’s public defender and asking for personal information. The woman knew neither call was legitimate and reported the scam to BBB.
Here are some tips to avoid the grandparent scam:
• Know the red flags. Typically, the grandparent receives a frantic phone call from a scammer posing as a grandchild or a friend of the grandchild. The “grandchild” explains he or she is in some kind of trouble and needs help. The “grandchild” pleads to the grandparents not to tell his or her parents and asks that they wire thousands of dollars for reasons such as posting bail, repairing a car, covering lawyer’s fees or even paying hospital bills.
• Stay calm. Emergency scams count on an emotional reaction. It’s important to resist the pressure to act quickly or react to the caller’s distress. Tell them you’ll call back and ask for a number. Contact your grandchild or another family member to determine whether the call is legitimate and confirm the whereabouts of the grandchild.
• Ask a personal question, but don’t disclose too much information. If a caller says “It’s me, Grandma!” don’t respond with a name, but instead let the caller explain who he or she is. One easy way to confirm their identity is to ask a simple question the grandchild would know such as what school he or she goes to or their middle name. Your family might consider developing a secret code or password that can be used to verify a true emergency.
• Do not wire money. Wiring money is like giving cash — once you send it, you can’t get it back. If you are asked to wire money based on a request made over the phone, especially overseas, consider it a red flag. Always make certain of the recipient’s identity before using a wire service or prepaid debit cards.
• Communicate. Students should stay in regular contact with their families while away at college, and they should share travel plans with family members before leaving the state or country. Parents are encouraged to let extended family members know when their child is heading back to school and/or traveling.
• Make a report. To report a scam or learn more about the latest scams trending in your area, go to BBB Scam Tracker.