When desperate 'grandchild' calls, make sure it's not a scam

July 28, 2014

Family of six walking a park Dear Action Line:

My name is Sarah and I am a 72 year old retired school teacher. Today, I received a phone call from someone who said she was my 17 year old granddaughter.   She said she was in Mexico and was in a car accident.  She was okay but she needed money to pay for the damages to the other car or they were going to put her in jail .  She was scared and didn’t sound like herself.  She needed $5000.  She wanted me to go to Walmart and buy a green dot card to get the money to her.  What should I do?

Dear Sarah,

First of all call your granddaughter and/or her parents.  Verfiy the location of your granddaughter.  Chances are she is right where she is supposed to be.  What you are writing about is known as the “Grandparent Scam”.  Scammers call unsuspecting family members using your emotional attachment to your family member to get you to send them money.  Here are some tips that will help you avoid the Grandparent Scam”:

Communicate. Family members should share travel plans with other family members before leaving the state or country.

Share information.  Provide the cell phone number and email address of a friend they are traveling with in the case of an emergency. Family members should remind students to be cautious when sharing details about travel plans on social media.

Know the red flags. Typically, the grandparent receives a frantic phone call from a scammer posing as their grandchild. The “grandchild” explains that he or she has gotten into trouble and needs help, perhaps caused a car accident or was arrested for drug possession. The "grandchild" pleads to the grandparents not to tell his or her parents and asks that they wire thousands of dollars for reasons posting bail, repairing the car, covering lawyer's fees or even paying hospital bills for a person the grandchild injured in a car accident.   

Ask a personal question, but don’t disclose too much information. If a grandparent receives a call from someone claiming to be their grandchild in distress, BBB advises that the grandparent not disclose any information before confirming that it really is their grandchild. If a caller says "It's me, Grandma!" don't respond with a name, but instead ask “Who is calling?”  Let the caller explain who he or she is.  One easy way to confirm their identity is to ask a simple question that the grandchild would know such as what school he or she goes to or their middle name.  For more information you can trust, visit www.bbb.org/central-california.

Action Line is written by Blair Looney, president and CEO for the Better Business Bureau serving Central California and Inland Empire Counties. Send your consumer concerns, questions and problems to Action Line at the Better Business Bureau, 4201 W. Shaw Ave., Suite 107, Fresno, CA 93722 or info@cencal.bbb.org