Mobile Security

Got an aging parent? Tell them about the Grandparent scam

Deborah Salmi, 24 September 2015

Scammers rob elderly victims of an estimated $3 Billion per year.

A scam that has been around since at least 2008 is still active and targeting elderly folks. Seventy-four year old Avast evangelist, Bob Gostischa, who knows a thing or two about scams, security, and privacy, received a call just yesterday from a scam artist attempting to steal money. "If it happened to me, I'm sure it's going to also happen to others," said Gostischa.

Here’s the basic premise:

Someone either calls or emails pretending to be your grandchild. The typical story is that they have been wrongfully arrested and need bail money wired right away. Another variation says they are traveling and have been mugged or even in an accident and badly injured. After going through this frantic sob story, and if they sense that their victim is falling for it, the scammer asks for money to be wired through services such as Western Union and MoneyGram.

After the phone call ended, Bob sent us a transcript so we could share it with Avast Blog readers. "I consider myself lucky because the first instinct was wow, how can I help her...?," he said. "I guess we all really need to be very vigilant at all times."

Caller: Hello Grandpa, this is your granddaughter. I have laryngitis so I don't sound like myself

Bob: You certainly don't. Which granddaughter?

Caller: What do you mean?

Bob: Well, I have several.
Caller: Your oldest.

Bob: Oh, OK (Suspicious because she should have said her name.) Is everything OK?

Caller: No.

Bob: What's the matter?

Caller: I was visiting a friend in Niagara Falls and on my way home, I was involved in a car accident.

Bob: Are you OK?

Caller: Yes, everyone is fine.

Bob: And the car?

Caller: The car is fine. This woman came out of nowhere, and I hit her but she's OK.

Bob: Thank God.

Caller: Yes, but when the cops came, they asked if I was drinking. I told them no but, because I'm taking medicine for my laryngitis, I failed the breathalyzer and spent the night in Jail.

Bob: Did they assign you an attorney?

Caller Yes, but I need bail money. Can you send me $500.00 via Western Union?

Bob: That's going to really be hard. We just had some medical bills so things are pretty tight.

Caller: Please Grandpa, can't you put it on your credit card?

Bob: Sorry, they are all maxed out.

Caller Please Grandpa, I don't want to stay in jail.

Bob: Sorry sweetie, but I really can't and don't have any money I can send.

Caller: click.... she hung up.

“In my case, my oldest granddaughter doesn't drive and she also wouldn't be in Niagara Falls," said Gostischa. "It's very easy to fall for a scam like this because all of us want to help family - especially our grandchildren.”

Last year, CBS News interviewed a former scammer who worked this game. He said that on a good day he could make $10,000 from the grandparent scam. "We target people over the age of 65, mainly, because they're more gullible," the former scammer said. "They're at home. They're more accessible. Once you get them emotionally involved, then they'll do anything for you, basically."

How to protect yourself from the Grandparent Scam

The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) has these suggestions:

  • 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 e-mail...especially overseas. Wiring money is like giving cash—once you send it, you can’t get it back.

What to do if you have been a victim

  • Contact your local authorities or state consumer protection agency if you think you’ve been victimized.
  • File a complaint with IC3, which may refer the case to federal, state, local or international law enforcement or regulatory agencies for possible investigation, or The Federal Trade Commission. You can also call the FTC at 1-877-382-4357 to report a complaint.

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