Tag Archives: Grandparent Scams

Scams Hit Northwest Indiana

Scam artists and less-than-honest businesses seem to be running wild in Northwest Indiana lately. Within one week, three different articles appeared in the NWI Times:

  1. AG Zoeller files lawsuits against local businesses
  2. National rental scam reaches NWI
  3. C.P. police warn of telephone scam; two residents victims

We’ve got a full line of scams and rip-offs here: car dealerships rolling back odometers, shady mortgage schemes, the grandchild-in-trouble telephone scam and a few Craigslist rental property scams.

The articles above do a fine job of presenting the details of each situation; no need to rehash here. The real lesson is this: always be aware of potential scams, watch out for anyone promising to lower your mortgage payment, never take an online classified ad at face value, never wire money to anyone who contacted you first, and always get a Carfax report before you buy a used auto.

The bad guys are out there, and they have a variety of methods at their disposal. All the rest of us can do is be informed, ask questions and stay vigilant. But those simple tools go a long way towards keeping yourself away from scams and fraud.

The grandchild-in-trouble scam claims another victim

According to a story in today’s edition of the NWI Times, a local senior citizen lost $3,200 to an overseas scammer.

This time, the victim got a call from someone that claimed to be his grandson. The caller said he had been arrested in Madrid, Spain, and needed the victim to wire $3,200 to bail him out.

After the victim wired money the first time, he got another call saying the transfer hadn’t gone through. He was asked to return to Western Union and wire another $3,200. It was at this point that the Western Union agent noticed that the first transfer had been successful, and the scam was uncovered.

This type of scam seems to be showing up more lately, which is to be expected in a world economy that’s seen better days. And let’s face it—it’s an easy scam to pull off, and the chances of being caught are low, so it’s an attractive crime to a lot of people.

You have to make sure your older relatives are aware of this scam. It doesn’t take much work to find out the names of grandchildren these days. Plus, an experienced crook doesn’t even need to know the grandchild’s name in advance; they’ll get the victim to say it at some point.

Tell them, “If you ever get a call from one of us saying they’re in trouble in some foreign country, and they’re asking you to wire money, please call us at home before you do anything, because it’s probably a scammer.”

Grandparents are more likely to have trouble hearing than others (at least for now, until earbud headphones have their way), an especially on the telephone, so it’s easier to trick them into thinking a caller is their grandchild. This goes double if the child in question was seven the last time they saw Meemaw. Have your kids called their grandparents lately? Maybe it’s time.

Of course, that’s not just a fraud prevention tip.

Grandparent scams claim another victim.

Today I heard about a local victim of what has come to be known as the “Grandparent Scam.”

The victim in this case was contacted by a person who claimed to be their grandson. He told the victim that he’d been in an auto wreck in Vancouver, and needed $900 because he hadn’t purchased insurance on the rental car. The victim wired the money, then received another call from the crook, asking for an additional sum. However, by this time the victim had been informed that it was a scam.

Still, $900. Nobody needs to lose that.

If you are a grandparent, it is imperative that you are informed about this type of crime. The con artists are banking on your not being able to recognize your grandchild’s voice. Through websites like Facebook, it is very easy for criminals to get information about family members online, which can add legitimacy to a caller’s story.

If someone calls, press them for information that only the real grandchild would know. Better yet, hang up and call the grandchild directly. I’ve heard of several cases of this scam being averted by the phrase, “No, meemaw, I’m not in Canada.”

They may claim to be in jail, injured, or in some other bind, but you have to avoid panicking in this situation. Know that in most cases, that call is a scam, especially when the caller claims to be overseas. Ask for a callback number and contact the parents or the grandchild himself.

Also know that money is irretrievable once wired out of the country.

If you know someone who is a grandparent, make sure you tell them about this scam. And have your kids give them a call now and then, just so they know their voices. It’s an easy scam to avoid if you’re informed.

But seriously folks, what is the deal with wiring money?

Looking back over the different types of fraud and scams I’ve been covering these past few months (and the ones I’m going to cover soon), I can’t help but notice that an inordinate amount of them involve wiring money.

Mystery Shopper Scams: the victim wires money to the thief.

Grandparent Telephone Scam: the victim wires money to the thief.

Craigslist Overpayment Scam: the victim wires money to the thief.

Job Interview Scam: the victim wires money to the thief.

Lottery Scam: the victim wires money to the thief.

So this has me thinking…what is the deal with wiring money? There just seems to be an aroma of seediness around the whole industry.

I’m not trying to throw Western Union under the bus here. I know the vast majority of people are using it and similar services for legitimate reasons, but still. Why is it so easy to commit crimes using money-wiring services, and could providers do anything to make it less so?

In all honesty, probably not. The crook is the one committing a crime. The victim is just wiring money, which you can pretty much do at will. It’s not a crime to fall for a scam. Limiting users’ ability to wire funds would just create extra hassle for customers and drive down business.

So that means it’s on you to not become a victim in the first place. Be knowledgeable about different types of scams. Most of all, just think before you act.

For example, I can’t think of a single legitimate case in which someone would mail you a cashier’s check and ask you to cash it, then wire money back to them. If someone is telling you to do this, it is a scam. 100% of the time. Just take that as a general rule, and you’ll reduce your chances of becoming a victim.

Telephone scam targets grandparents

There’s another antique scam currently experiencing a renaissance: the telephone “Grandparent Scam.”

This one is really simple: thieves will call elderly people, posing as a grandchild and asking for money because of a car accident, arrest or other emergency. Alternately, they may claim to be a police officer or lawyer and tell the victim their grandchild has been hurt, arrested or in need of legal counsel. In either case, the victim is instructed to wire money to the thieves.

It’s a simple scam because it’s so easy to find out the names and ages of family members online. In fact, a single obituary might provide everything a crook needs to victimize family members of the deceased. However, an experienced “social engineer” might be able to pull it off cold, with very little information to start with.

Thieves using this technique are working under a set of assumptions:

  1. Grandparents will be less judgmental if a young person is in trouble with the law, which is why the “grandchild” is calling them instead of a parent
  2. Grandparents will be quick to panic if they think a grandchild is injured
  3. Elderly people can’t hear well, which means the thief doesn’t have to work very hard to disguise his or her voice
  4. Older people are less informed and less tech-savvy
  5. Elderly people may be ill or on medication, which can affect their judgment

Of course, in any individual case, none of these might be true, some of these might be true, or all of these might be true. Crooks use stereotypes as a way to select potential victims, knowing that one group (grandparents) will have a statistically higher rate of return than another (parents or siblings).

If you are a grandparent, be extremely wary of anyone calling who claims to be a grandchild in trouble. Ask questions that only the real grandchild would know. Hang up the phone and call him or her directly, or the parents. If the caller claims to have been arrested in Tijuana, but his parents say he’s in the living room in Des Moines, you’ve pretty much got your answer right there.

Don’t wire money to someone who calls just because they asked you to. Don’t panic. Take a breath or two, and figure out how you can verify beyond reasonable doubt who that caller is. Ask questions (the crook will likely hang up immediately). Call the parents. Call the grandchild. Do whatever it takes to verify the identity of the caller.

In all honesty, if someone is calling and asking you to wire money, I’d put 90% odds on it being a scam right away.