Telephone scam targets grandparents

Lewis County Sheriff Johnny Bivens says a telephone scam is making the rounds in this area in which the caller claims to be a grandchild and is in some trouble. They then ask for some money to help them get out of trouble.

The trouble is, they aren’t the person’s grandchild.

The scam was identified several years ago and is revived occasionally with slightly different scenarios.

“The caller might identify themselves as a grandchild and says they’ve been arrested and need money wired quickly to pay an attorney or to pay bail,” Bivens said.

“They’ll usually ask that their parents not be told about the matter for one reason or another,” he added.

The plea may also be made through an email, he said.

This is an example of what’s come to be known as the grandparent scam, according to information from the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Bivens says it just another type of fraud that targets the elderly by exploiting their love and concern for their grandchildren.

The grandparent scam has been around for a few years, according to the FBI.

A release says their Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) has been receiving reports about it since 2008.

The scam and scam artists have become more sophisticated since those early reports.

Thanks to the Internet and social networking sites, a criminal can sometimes uncover personal information about their targets, which makes the impersonations more believable, according to the FBI.

For example, the actual grandson may mention on his social networking site that he’s a photographer who often travels to Mexico. When contacting the grandparents, the phony grandson will say he’s calling from Mexico, where someone stole his camera equipment and passport.

Common scenarios include:

• A grandparent receives a phone call (or sometimes an email) from a “grandchild.” If it is a phone call, it’s often late at night or early in the morning when most people aren’t thinking that clearly. Usually, the person claims to be traveling in a foreign country and has gotten into a bad situation, like being arrested for drugs, getting in a car accident, or being mugged…and needs money wired ASAP. And the caller doesn’t want his or her parents told.

• Sometimes, instead of the “grandchild” making the phone call, the criminal pretends to be an arresting police officer, a lawyer, a doctor at a hospital, or some other person. And we’ve also received complaints about the phony grandchild talking first and then handing the phone over to an accomplice, to further spin the fake tale.

• We’ve also seen military families victimized: after perusing a soldier’s social networking site, a con artist will contact the soldier’s grandparents, sometimes claiming that a problem came up during military leave that requires money to address.

• While it’s commonly called the grandparent scam, criminals may also claim to be a family friend, a niece or nephew, or another family member.

The financial losses in these cases—while they can be substantial for an individual, usually several thousand dollars per victim—typically don’t meet the FBI’s financial thresholds for opening an investigation.

Contacting local authorities or a state consumer protection agency is recommended if you think you’ve been victimized.

You can also file a complaint with IC3, which not only forwards complaints to the appropriate agencies, but also collates and analyzes the data which helps in identifying common threads that link complaints and help identify the culprits.

Some tips to avoid being victimized:

• Resist the pressure to act quickly.

• Try to contact your grandchild or another family member to determine whether or not the call is legitimate.

• Never wire money based on a request made over the phone or in an email, especially overseas. Wiring money is like giving cash, once you send it, you can’t get it back.

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