Each summer, students look forward to the opportunity to trade their studies for some fun in the sun. Unfortunately, it’s also the time when the Better Business Bureau receives an increase of “Grandparent Scam” reports. While the scam has been around for years, it continues to proliferate as one variation of the imposter scams that dupes thousands of consumers every year. In 2018, an estimated $1.48 billion was reported stolen, with those over the age of 70 suffering the highest average losses, according to the Federal Trade Commission.
A grandparent’s worst nightmare is to find out that their grandchild has been injured or is in a catastrophic situation. With access to a potential lifetime of savings, seniors are prime targets for scam artists who will plot to take advantage of their desire to help a loved one.
The BBB offers the following tips to help people avoid the grandparent scam:
Know the red flags. Typically, the victim receives a frantic phone call from a scammer posing as a grandchild or other family member. The “grandchild” explains that he or she is in some kind of trouble and needs help. The “grandchild” pleads to not to tell his or her parents and asks that they wire thousands of dollars for reasons such as posting bail, repairing a car, covering lawyer’s fees or even paying hospital bills.
Stay calm. Emergency scams rely on an emotional reaction. It’s important to resist the pressure to act quickly or react to the caller’s distress. Tell them you’ll call back and ask for a number; then contact your grandchild or another family member to determine whether or not the call is legitimate and confirm the whereabouts of the grandchild.
Ask a personal question, but don’t disclose too much information. If a caller says “It’s me, Grandma!” don’t respond with a name, but instead 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 their middle name or the color of your vehicle. Your family might consider developing a secret code or password that can be used to verify a true emergency.
Never send money via unconventional methods. Wiring money is like giving cash — once you send it, you can’t get it back. If you are asked to wire money based on a request made over the phone, especially to locations overseas, consider it a serious red flag. Scammers also commonly use payment via prepaid card or gift cards.
Communicate. Students should share travel plans with family members before leaving the state or country. Parents are encouraged to let extended family members know when and where their child is traveling.
Share information. Students should provide cellphone numbers and email addresses of friends 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.
If you do fall victim to the “Grandparent Scam,” report the incident immediately to BBB Scam Tracker and local police.
For more tips on how to be a savvy consumer, go to bbb.org. To report fraudulent activity or unscrupulous business practices, call the BBB at 903-581-5704 or use BBB ScamTracker.