Published Date Written by Jim Lewis
It’s called the “Grandparent Scam,’’ and it’s grown to mind-blowing proportions lately as more people use the Internet.
A caller claiming to be a grandchild calls a senior citizen, concocts a fake plight – they were in a car accident, or are imprisoned in a foreign country, or couldn’t get access to financial aid while away at college – and asks for money to be wired to them.
The Federal Trade Commission recorded only 743 incidents of scammers impersonating a family member of friend in need of money in 2009. The number has ballooned to more than 40,000 since 2010.
In Lower Swatara Twp., police get calls about scams from victims or would-be victims a couple times each month, said Chief Richard Brandt. Recently, two elderly residents were scammed out of a total of $6,300.
One 73-year-old resident lost $1,800 when she wired money to a caller who claimed to be her grandson, in need of money for taxes he had to pay to get access to his college financial aid. A 67-year-old resident lost $4,500 that she wired to a caller who claimed to be her grandson, in a Mexico prison after he was involved in a car crash.
Scammers typically do business from afar – in other states or, in many cases, other countries – so local police are unable to conduct a thorough enough investigation to make an arrest. But authorities are offering a couple tools that could help senior citizens who are victims of scams, or stop them from becoming victims.
Sen. Bob Casey announced recently that he has put on his website a central source of resources for victims of scams and other abuse.
“I think we all have an obligation to do our part’’ for senior citizens, Casey said.
Although eliminating scams may be “impossible,’’ providing convenient resources to the elderly through the Internet may mean “we can substantially reduce it,’’ Casey said.
In Lower Swatara, police and concerned citizens may hold a seminar for seniors and other citizens sometime this year to teach them how to recognize – and avoid falling for – scams where callers use personal family information gleaned illicitly to con them out of money, said Brandt. The seminar would be conducted by the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office, which deals with scam reports.
If you receive a call asking for money – particularly a request to wire money somewhere – you should call a family member to confirm the caller is indeed your grandchild, Brandt said.
“Do a little checking,’’ even if the caller insists you keep it a secret to allegedly avoid trouble with parents, he said. “A few minutes of your time may save you a few thousand.’’
And if you’re not sure if a caller is indeed a grandchild in a car accident in Mexico, call Lower Swatara police if you’re a township resident, Brandt said. Police are more likely to get information from other police departments – and if the call sounds like a scam, police will tell you so, he said.
“At least we can give them a little advice, and it’s free,’’ Brandt said. “We’ll never stop it, but we can cut down on it.’’