Beware of the Grandparent Scam: It's Becoming More Sophisticated
Wiring Money May Not be Wise
Con Men on the Telephone
Some people I know very well recently received an early morning phone call from their "grandson."
"Hi Grandmaw, I'm in jail. Please don't tell my parents. My friends and I stole a car and we got into an accident and I need money so I can get out of jail."
He handed the telephone to his "lawyer," who explained the judge was going to be very lenient, as long as the damage was paid for.
The people who were hit were driving a rental car, which sustained several thousand dollars worth of damage. Because they were flying home to the Dominican Republic and they needed to return the car, they paid for the damage so they wouldn't miss their flight. But the judge ordered the boys to reimburse them.
The lawyer provided information about wiring money to the Dominican Republic.
"The judge realizes they are two good boys who just made a mistake," the lawyer assured the worried grandparents.
However, the grandmother was a bit curious, since she noticed the call came from a telephone in Los Angeles, and her "grandson" was in jail hundreds of miles away. She also realized the tiny community in which her grandson lived didn't have a courthouse, and didn't have a jail.
When she asked the lawyer why the call was coming from Los Angeles, he had a ready answer. "This is a jail and we have a secure phone line," he replied.
Fortunately, this particular grandmother asked a lot of questions.
In the midst of making plans to wire the money, she also called the police station in the town her grandson lived. The local police knew nothing about this alleged crime. Instead, they urged her to contact her grandson. She reached him on his cell phone. He was home from school that day, and had never even left the house.
The FBI reports the so-called "grandparent scam," which first appeared in 2008, is growing more sophisticated, as perpetrators easily glean personal information from Facebook and other forms of social media. This makes it all the more believable.
Curiously, the grandmother noticed that her caller, who identified himself by her grandson's first name, also sounded exactly like her grandson.
Oftentimes, these scam calls come early in the morning or late at night, when people are likely to be tired, according to the FBI.
The grandparents who were almost robbed had just woken up. They were also busy getting ready for a trip and their plane was leaving in just a few hours. Ironically, they were going to visit their grandson. They planned to tell their daughter about the "incident" as soon as they arrived.
Usually, these scams ask the grandparents to quickly wire several thousand dollars to a foreign country. The FBI warns that it's never a good idea to do this based on a phone call or an email. Once the money is sent there's no way to get it back.
Grandparents are also urged by the FBI not to act quickly, but to try to contact the grandchild directly.