Grandparent Scams

July 20, 2011

Beware of “Grandparent Scam

Attorney General and Area Agencies on Aging warn of flare-up in phony “emergency” calls asking grandparents to wire money to help a grandchild who is “in trouble.”

Des Moines. Attorney General Tom Miller and Area Agencies on Aging are urging Iowans to spread the word that the “grandparent” scam appears to be flaring up in Iowa.

“A southwest Iowa grandmother lost $2,900 to the scam last week,” Miller said. “She got a call purporting to be her grandson, who said he was in trouble with the law and asked ‘Gramma’ to send money so he could post bond. She wired the money to Canada. It was a hoax.”

Miller listed the most frequent warning signs of the “grandparent scam”:

  • An urgent call for financial help with an emergency such as a car crash, medical emergency, or trouble with the law.
  • A request to send $3-4,000 by wire transfer via Western Union or MoneyGram.
  • A request to keep the call confidential – and not tell parents or other family members.

“Iowans appear to be getting more and more calls like this,” Miller said, “and some are falling for it. It originates mostly in Canada, and the calls seem to be increasing. We and the Area Agencies on Aging have reports of victims in several parts of Iowa. It takes people by surprise, tugs at their heart-strings, and cheats some out of thousands of dollars.”

“Grandparent scam” con-artists sometimes trick their victims into mentioning names, or they might already have information gleaned from social networking web sites like MySpace or Facebook. “It’s a deliberate, nasty, cynical scam,” Miller said.

Miller encouraged Iowans to spread the warning over the holidays that such calls are occurring, especially to older relatives. “Most of all, just be skeptical, if you get such a call. Ask questions to verify the caller’s identity. Call parents or other family members. Don’t be rushed. Don’t wire money, which is like sending cash and is almost impossible to recover. Don’t give credit card or bank account information over the phone if someone calls you,” Miller advised.

More background and detail:

The Iowa Senior Medicare Patrol (SMP) program, a service of Iowa’s Area Agencies on Aging (AAAs), said Wednesday it has received numerous reports from older persons around the state who have received these worrisome and deceiving calls. SMP encourages seniors to report information requested by the Iowa Attorney General and if they need assistance in making that report, they may contact SMP at 1-800-423-2449.

Miller said any victims should contact the Consumer Protection Division immediately at 888-777-4590 toll-free statewide, or 515-281-5926 in Des Moines. It is very difficult to trace funds sent by wire transfer, he said, but if information is still ‘hot’ and there is a Canada-connection, then his office will help people get in touch at once with the “Phonebusters” anti-fraud hotline run by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and provincial police. The Phonebusters toll-free number is 888-495-8501.

It appears there is a chance that the recent victim from Corning, in southwest Iowa, may be able to recover the funds she lost, but that would be the exception, Miller said – most funds wired to con-artists never can be traced or recovered, and the schemers can’t be apprehended or deterred.  “We have to prevent this scam in the first place,” he said. “Tell your family members about it, and put them on alert to avoid the grandparent scam.”

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