“I never thought it would happen to me.” Countless victims of scams have uttered this very phrase. Our most recent victim, a man from Frisco, TX, was in shock when he found himself conned by way of a grandparent scheme.
A grandparent scheme is simple. Specifically targeting the elderly population, a man or woman receives a phone call from someone posing as their granddaughter or grandson, claiming they are in trouble and need help. The caller says he or she is in trouble with the law, possibly in jail or stuck in a foreign country, and needs money to get back home. The scammer asks the grandparent to send money via wire transfer or money card, then vanishes without a trace.
Our latest victim found himself taking part in this exact scenario. In a letter to BBB, he outlined the details of what happened.
“On a quiet afternoon,” he begins, “I answered the phone to a very familiar ‘Hi Grandpa.’” The woman on the phone did not identify herself, but instead provided leading statements until he guessed that it was Ashley, his granddaughter.
The woman went on to describe a car accident in which she was involved in California, which resulted in her being taken to jail because she had had a glass of wine earlier the same evening. She said she needed money to get out of jail and catch a flight back home, and that a lawyer would call and explain the payment details.
The so-called lawyer called the man and instructed him to go to Walmart and purchase two $1000 Green Dot Money Pak cards, then provide the lawyer with the serial numbers on the cards. At this point the lawyer would immediately redeem the cards.
The man did so, but soon afterwards filed a police report and tried to track where the cards had been redeemed. He was told by both Walmart and the police that the cards were probably redeemed through the Internet which “was virtually impossible to trace.”
The man said he “was left impressed with how slick they were and how dumb [he] was.” However, as he would now tell you, this kind of thing is commonplace, and absolutely can happen to anyone. A distress call from a suffering relative, especially a grandchild, is the last thing a grandparent would want to ignore. There’s always the “what if” – what if it’s real and my grandchild is truly in trouble?
My grandmother would jump at the chance to help me out if I needed it, as undoubtedly most grandparents would. I’m sure she would do so without a moment of hesitation. Our first instinct when we hear a loved one is in trouble is usually to do whatever is needed rather than stop and ask questions, but unfortunately, that is absolutely necessary in this situation.
Of course, hindsight is 20/20, and the man soon realized that asking more questions was exactly what he should have done. In his letter, he wonders why he didn’t ask where in California was this happening, or if he could have his lawyer call his granddaughter or her lawyer. BBB recommends asking for that call-back number, along with a few other tips to avoid becoming a victim of this scheme:
- Don’t fill in the blanks. Wait until the caller identifies him- or herself as your grandchild by name without your help.
- Before agreeing to anything, try to verify where your grandchild truly is. Call their cell phone, or check with their parents to see if they are actually traveling as they claim.
- Be cautious about requests to transfer money. If the caller is being careful to request a form of payment that cannot be traced, this is a red flag.
- To learn more about scams or to report a scam, visit BBB Scam Stopper, www.bbb.org/scam-stopper.