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Senior Citizens Nationwide Report Losing Thousands of Dollars to Telephone Scam
October 09, 2008

Senior Citizens Across Michigan Report Losing Thousands of Dollars to Telephone Scam

The Better Business Bureau is warning senior citizens to be aware of an emerging telephone scam that is preying on grandparents nationwide. BBB has recently received reports about grandparents from California to New Hampshire who thought they were aiding their grandchildren by providing money for an emergency situation but were in fact giving thousands of dollars to Canadian con artists.

Generally, the scam works like this – the grandparent receives a distressed phone call from who they believe is their grandchild. The supposed grandchild typically explains that they are travelling in Canada and have been arrested or involved in an auto accident and need the grandparent to wire money to post bail or pay for damages—usually amounting to a few thousand dollars. While many seniors have reported the scam without falling prey to it, unfortunately, many others have been victimized. One well-meaning grandparent in the Upper Peninsula's Delta County recently sent $16,000 to scammers, thinking it was to help a grandchild who had been in an auto accident.  A grandfather from the Metro Detroit community of Howell recently wired $5,000 to scam artists. A grandmother from Ann Arbor was recently stopped by a wary bank teller from making a $10,000 withdrawal that she planned to wire to con artists in Windsor, Ontario.

“This scam is just despicable because it preys on the emotions of seniors who want nothing more than to ensure the safety of their grandchildren,” said Tim Burns, BBB spokesperson. “The key to avoiding this scam is to remain calm despite the ‘emergency’ nature of the call and to verify the identity of the caller.”

The Canadian Anti-Fraud Call Centre is reporting a significant increase in complaints for this scam. In 2007, the Centre received 128 complaints about this type of scam; since the beginning of this year, nearly 350 complaints have been filed, and about half were filed in July and August alone.

Law enforcement officials are not certain how perpetrators are obtaining phone numbers for so many senior citizens across the U.S. However, it is believed that scammers are most likely calling random numbers until they happen to reach a senior citizen. The scammers’ basic tactic is to pose as a grandchild and let the unsuspecting grandparent fill in the blanks. For example, the scam caller might say, “It’s me, your favorite grandchild,” to which the grandparent will guess the name of the grandchild it sounds the most like, and then the call proceeds from there.

To protect themselves from this scam, and other scams that may use a distressed loved-one tactic, BBB is advising seniors to confirm the status of the individual by calling them directly or verifying the story with other family members before taking any further action.

BBB also advises that any request to wire money through Western Union or MoneyGram should be seen as a “red flag” and an immediate tip-off that the call may be part of a scam. Funds sent via wire transfer are hard to track once received by scammers and are usually not recoverable by law enforcement or banking officials.

For anyone victimized by this type of distressed loved-one call, BBB recommends reporting the incident immediately to your local police department and contact your local Better Business Bureau by visiting www.bbb.org or calling 248-644-9100. If there is a request to wire money to Canada, the Canadian Anti-Fraud Call Centre has established the PhoneBusters hotline and Web site to report such fraud. Reports can be filed easily online through the PhoneBusters site at: www.phonebusters.com, or by phone, toll free at, 1-888-495-8501.

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