Call it the Grandparent Scam 2.0.
Scammers are turning to social media for key personal details that make their pleas for help and money more convincing to their victims: seniors. And seniors, already prime targets for identity theft scams, are losing millions of dollars a year as a result, according to the AARP.
CyberScout fraud investigators work around the clock to help victims recover from these devastating scams that can wipe out retirement savings and damage sterling reptuations. With National Grandparents Day right around the corner, now is the time to help protect your loved one with education and basic protection tips.
How the scam begins
Fraudsters target a gullible grandparent and learn as much about the family’s extended relationships as possible from social media postings. From this research comes a script that preys on a grandparent’s sympathy and willingness to secretly help a grandchild in distress.
Maria Valenzuela, a senior fraud investigator at CyberScout, has helped numerous grandparents snared by this con. Watch this video from ThirdCertainty.com to learn more. It typically begins with the scammer impersonating the grandchild in a phone call to the grandparent. If the grandparent is hearing-impaired, all the better for the con artist.
If the grandparent has sharp hearing and begins to question the sound of the scammer’s voice, the scammer is prepared. “Sometimes they’ll say, ‘Well I broke my nose in this car accident, so my voice is muffled.’ ”
The hook: “They’ll say that they’re in Mexico on spring break, and they have gotten arrested or they’ve been in an accident, and they need them to wire-transfer money,” Valenzuela said.
A request for secrecy usually comes into play. “They tell them not to tell the parents, because they’re not supposed to be in Mexico. … If the grandparent is skeptical, they will drop in clues, like ‘Don’t tell Chelsea,’ which will be the sister’s name, ‘because she’s studying for an exam.’ ”
The scammer is fully prepared to improvise. “They’ll have so much personal information about the family that the grandparents believe that it is them,” Valenzuela said.
If the grandparent bites, the scammer asks him or her to wire-transfer anywhere from $2,000 to $6,000. And it doesn’t end there.
“They call back and they say, ‘Well, now I need to get through the airports, and I have to pay these fines before they’ll let me leave the country.’ So then they have them go back and wire-transfer more money, $4,000 or $6,000,” Valenzuela said.
If the grandparent falls for the ruse twice, a third attempt follows for “anywhere from $2,000 to $10,000.”
The caper falls apart at the point where the grandparent places a call to the parent or to the grandchild and finds them sitting at home.