The BBB has issued a warning about a distressing telephone scam that’s increasing in popularity. The target? Grandparents. Scammers based in Canada are thought to be randomly dialing US phone numbers until they reach someone who sounds like a senior citizen. They then pose as a grandchild who has been in a car accident and needs emergency money.
The BBB says:
While many seniors have reported the scam without falling prey to it, unfortunately, many others have been victimized. One well-meaning grandmother sent $15,000 to scammers, thinking she was helping a grandchild who had been in an auto accident.
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.
The BBB also alerted us to several examples of people who have been victimized by the scam. Here’s one from Utah:
When the phone rang in the middle of the night, Vernon and Alice Harper knew something was wrong. Alice said the caller told her, “Oh, I’m sorry, Grandma. I’m really sorry to do this to you.” She said it sounded a little bit like he was crying. The caller told them, “I’m in trouble, Grandma. I’m up here in Toronto. I need money. I’m in jail. I had a rented car, and I wrecked it.”
They thought the caller was their grandson, so Alice wired $4,400. The caller said his calling card only had a few minutes and he didn’t have much time, but could she wire the money within two hours? He would call back in two hours to get the personal identification number.
Once Alice got to Wal-Mart to get the MoneyGram, she wanted to be safe about it, so she asked the clerk to tack on a security question, something only her grandson would know. But on the other end of the transaction, nobody asked her security question to the con artist. She had already given him the personal identification number, and that’s all the clerk on the Canada end asked for. MoneyGrams use personal identification numbers instead of requiring ID to wire money. As long as you have the pin, you can get the money.
And here’s another one where a grandmother sent $5,300 to someone claiming to be one of her 50 grandchildren.
The BBB has some advice for people who spot this scam, or are victimized by it:
BBB recommends reporting the incident immediately to local police departments and state Attorneys General offices. 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.