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BBB Alert: Imposter scams on the rise
July 18, 2014

BBB recently received several reports of scammers trying to swindle elderly for money 

Better Business Bureau (BBB) serving Central, Coastal, Southwest Texas and the Permian Basin has received an influx of calls from seniors who were targeted by a scam commonly referred to as the impostor scam or “grandparent scam.”

How the scam works: The scammer preys on the grandparent’s desire to aid their grandchildren. Typically, the grandparent receives a frantic phone call from someone who poses as their grandchild.

A scammer, who has done research on the family, explains that he or she is in trouble and needs their help, usually saying they’re trapped in another country or involved in a serious accident or emergency. The “grandchild” pleads to the grandparents not to tell his or her parents and asks that they wire money to help immediately.

Senior citizens are frequent targets of this scam. They are often trusting and willing to quickly help a loved one. When it comes to a grandchild in need of help, emotions can run high. Scammers can find ways to take advantage of that. Thieves also know seniors can have Social Security income, pensions, investments and savings. Those assets make seniors attractive targets for con artists.

BBB warns you to be wary of these red flags:

  • Urgent callers pressuring quick action
  • Callers requesting money
  • Callers claiming to be in Canada or another international location
  • Callers insisting on secrecy
  • Callers requesting that money be sent by wire transfer or a prepaid debit card
  • Vague callers who get personal details wrong

Although variations of this scam have been around for a long time, it has become more sophisticated with the abundance of information on the Internet. Con artists are more often using personal information gleaned from family blogs, social networking sites and online newspapers to add credibility to their calls.

A new twist reported recently to BBB had these roles reversed. An 18-year-old Corpus Christi man received a phone call from a scammer who claimed to be his grandfather and stated he was in need of money. Unfortunately for this con, the victim’s grandparents were deceased.

BBB offers this advice to avoid becoming victim to an imposter scam:

Resist the pressure to act quickly. Don’t let a potential scammer push you into sending money before you verify the situation.

Be skeptical. Ask questions only the grandchild could know the answer to, without revealing too much personal information about yourself. Ask the name of a pet, a favorite dish or what school they attend. Your loved one should not get angry about you being too cautious.

Verify information. Check with the parents to see if their child is really traveling as they say they are.

Don’t wire money. Never use a transfer service to send money for an emergency you haven’t verified is real.

Know where to turn. If you fall victim to a scam, report the incident immediately to local police, the Texas State Attorney General and your local BBB.