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SCARS|RSN™ Guide: Grandparents Scams
Those Are Not Your Grandchildren! FTC Warns Of New Scam
Grandchildren imposters are managing to finagle a skyrocketing amount of money out of people, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) warned on Monday.
The FTC says that its Consumer Sentinel Network has noticed a “striking” increase in the median dollar amount that people 70 and older report losing to fraud. When they started to peel back the layers, the Commission found a number of stories that involve people of that age group having mailed “huge” amounts of cash to people who pretended to be their grandchildren.
People from all age groups report having fallen for phony family and friends: the reported median loss for individuals is about $2,000, which is more than four times the median loss of $462 reported for all fraud types.
But that’s nothing compared with how much money is being bled out of the elderly: those who send cash reported median losses of a whopping $9,000. About one in four of the ripped-off elderly who report that they lost money to a family or friend imposter say that they sent cash: a far higher rate than the 1 in 25 of people who sent cash for all other frauds.
CBS News talked to one man who got scammed in a way that the FTC says is a common ploy.
Slick Scam Scripts
It started with a phone call one morning in April, Franc Stratton told the station. The caller pretended to be a public defender from Austin, Texas, who was calling to tell Stratton that his grandson had been in a car wreck, had been driving under the influence, and was now in jail.
Don’t be afraid, the imposter told Stratton: you can bail out your grandson by sending $8,500 in cash via FedEx. It didn’t raise flags for a good reason: Stratton had done exactly that for another family member in the past.
The cherry on top: the “attorney” briefly put Stratton’s “grandson” on the phone. The fake kid sounded injured, so Stratton drove to the bank to get the cash.
“I wrote a check out, and they gave me $8,500 cash in hundreds.”
Stratton went so far as to go to a local FedEx to overnight the money to an Austin address. But later that night, he said, he and his wife looked at each other and said “Scam!”
Fortunately, they came to their senses in time to call FedEx to have the package returned. He got his money back, but Stratton is still frustrated. Of all people, he should know better, he says: he’s retired now after a career spent working in intelligence, first for the Air Force and later as a cybersecurity programmer.
That’s how slick the scammers are, with their meticulously prepared scripts, and it shows that they know exactly how to put people into a panicked state, where they’re likely to make bad decisions. Stratton said he fell for it “because of the way that they scripted it.”
“I’m the last person, I thought, would ever fall for a scam like this.”
The FTC’s Monica Vaca says:
“A lot of people think they won’t fall for it and a lot of people don’t fall for it. But the fact of the matter is that when you get one of these calls, they sound really real. Scammers are very, very good at making you believe that you’ve got an emergency situation on your hands and they have a really powerful way of getting you to act on that.”
The FTC says that Americans have lost $41 million in the scam this year: nearly twice as much as the $26 million loss the year before.
Self-defense for grandparents
These scams are growing more sophisticated as fraudsters do their homework, looking at you and/or your grandkids up on social media to lace their scripts with personal details that make them all the more convincing.
Grandparents, no matter how savvy you are, you’ve got an Achilles heel: your love for your grandchildren. The fakers know exactly how to milk that for all it’s worth.
The FTC warns that they’ll pressure you into sending money before you’ve had time to think it through. The Commission offers this advice to keep the shysters from wringing your heart and your wallet:
- Stop. Breathe. Check it out before you send a dime. Look up your grandkid’s phone number yourself, or call another family member.
- Don’t overshare. Whatever you share publicly on social media becomes a weapon in the arsenals of scammers. The more personal details they know about you, the more convincing they can sound. It’s one of many reasons to be careful about what you share on social media.
- Pass the information on to a friend. Even if you haven’t been targeted yourself, you probably know somebody who’s either already gotten a call like this or who will.
- Report it. The FTC asks us all to please report these scams. US residents can do so online to the FTC. If you’re in the UK, report scams to ActionFraud.
Please do report these scams. Doing so helps the authorities nail these imposters before they can victimize others. See below for how to best report scams!
United States Federal Trade Commission Guidance On Grandparent Scams
New twist to grandparent scam: mail cash
Median individual losses
In 2018, the Consumer Sentinel Network has seen a striking increase in the median dollar amount that people 70 and over are saying they lost to fraud. Digging into the data, we found some common stories with an unusual twist: people 70 and older report mailing huge amounts of cash to people who pretended to be their grandchildren.
People 70 and over rarely report to the FTC that they paid a scammer with cash. But for one particular type of fraud – family and friend imposters – fully 25% of people 70 and over who reported to the FTC how they paid money told us they sent cash.
We call these family and friend imposter scams, but you may know them as the “grandparent scam” and with good reason. People 70 and over report that the scammer posed as a grandchild, usually a grandson, about 70% of the time.
People from all age groups reported median individual losses of about $2,000 to family and friend imposters – far higher than the median loss of $462 reported to us this year for all fraud types. But the story is much worse for people 70 and over who sent cash – they reported median individual losses of $9,000.
When we looked at fraud reports from all age groups, and from all Sentinel data contributors, we found that aggregate losses to family and friend imposters have increased. Losses over the past year reached $41 million, as compared to $26 million in the previous year.
Like many scams, these start with a phone call using some common ploys. In about half of the reports of cash payments, people said the caller claimed to be in jail or other legal trouble. About a third of these reports mentioned a so-called car accident (some mentioning texting or drinking while driving). In both cases, the callers play on people’s emotions and sense of loyalty: they may be told they’re the only person trusted enough to call for help, and they’re often told not to tell anyone.