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Dialing For Dollars: Grandparents Make Grand Targets

Somewhere in your home a phone rings. You answer and hear a panicked voice say, “Grandma, is that you?” The caller waits for your reply, “Little Jimmy, is that you?” The caller responds, “Yes, Grandma. I’m so glad I reached you, I’ve been in a terrible car accident and I need you to send me some money.” What loving, caring grandparent isn’t going to come to dear Jimmy’s aid? This is how so many seniors have fallen victim to the so-called “grandparent scam”.

Like most scams, this one has multiple variations. The caller may claim be to on vacation out of the country, involved in an accident, or even in jail. The common thread is the scammer’s willingness to prey on a grandparent’s love for their grandchild. By making the situation seem desperate and the need for money urgent, the caller is hoping you won’t take the time to check out his/her story. He or she may also ask you to keep it a secret from the rest of the family, claiming he/she would be embarrassed if everyone found out.

Here are some tips to avoid falling for this type of scam:

Verify said grandchild’s whereabouts by directly calling another family member or the grandchild directly with a phone number you know belongs to them. Do not call the caller back with a phone number provided during the call.

Don’t fill in the blanks for the caller. If the caller says, “This is your favorite grandson” ask “which one?” Avoid providing the caller with more information than they already have.

Never give out personally identifiable information and never send money to someone you don’t know. Any request to wire money Western Union or MoneyGram should be seen as a red flag that the call may be part of a scam, as these two money services are commonly used by scammers as a means to obtain money. Funds sent via wire transfer are hard to track once received by the scammer and are usually not recoverable by law enforcement or banking officials.

Finally, if you do feel you have been a victim of this type of fraud, don’t be afraid or ashamed to report it. As much as scammers count on your love for your family members getting in the way of your better judgment, they also count on you not reporting them after the fact. If you or someone you know has been victimized, help is available from many resources:

Your local law enforcement agency: Call or visit to file a police report.

The Attorney General’s Office in your state: You can find the phone number in the “Government” section of your phone book. These agencies often have consumer protection divisions and may even employ specialists who deal with elder fraud.

The Federal Trade Commission: The Federal Trade Commission is the nation's consumer protection agency. The FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection works for the consumer to prevent fraud and deception. You may call their fraud hotline at 1-877-FTC-HELP or visit them online at http://www.ftc.gov/

The Federal Communication Commission: The FCC was established by the Communications Act of 1934 and is charged with regulating interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite and cable. You may call their fraud hotline at 1-888-CALL-FCC or visit them online at www.fcc.gov

Eldercare Locator: This service of the U.S. Administration on Aging links those who need assistance with the state and local agencies on aging and community-based organizations that serve older adults. You can call 1-800-677-1116 and speak with an information specialist or visit their website at http://www.eldercare.gov/

Internet Crime Complaint Center: The Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) is a partnership between the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the National White Collar Crime Center (NW3C), and the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA). IC3's mission is to serve as a vehicle to receive, develop, and refer criminal complaints regarding the rapidly expanding arena of cyber crime. The IC3 gives the victims of cyber crime a convenient and easy-to-use reporting mechanism that alerts authorities of suspected criminal or civil violations. You may contact them online at www.ic3.gov.

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