During the past few years, scammers have gotten better at figuring out ways around potential victims’ natural skepticism. Using a variety of lies and trickery, they steal millions each year from unwary marks.
In this column, I’ve written numerous times about a particularly odious form of thievery known as the grandparent scam. Unfortunately, seniors in the Magnolia State are increasingly getting calls like this — often in the dead of night.
Purveyors of this lie will call seniors pretending to be a grandchild in trouble, another family member or friend. Tactics vary, but a typical ruse is to pretend to be in jail, to claim they’ve had all their money stolen while traveling or say they’re been hospitalized in a foreign country. But it eventually gets around to a request for cash to be wired. Often, they’ll put someone else on the line to lend credibility to the call, pretending to be a police officer, lawyer or doctor. If you respond, your money will vanish without a trace. Attorney General Jim Hood issued a warning this week about this activity.
“Wiring money is identical to mailing cash,” Hood noted in a news release. “There are no protections for the sender and no way to reverse the transaction, trace the money, or recover payment from the telephone con artists. These scammers will try to convince their victims to send any amount — from several hundred to several thousand dollars — and they may even call back hours or days later asking for more money if they were successful the first time.”
Hood said his office has seen a recent uptick in reports about the scam, with Harrison and Hinds counties seeing the most activity. This variant of the scam requests the victim wire money through Western Union or MoneyGram, or in some cases, to provide bank account and bank routing numbers.
Nationally, the grandparent scam is a growing concern for law enforcement. In 2015, the U.S. Senate’s Special Committee on Aging reported more than 10,500 complaint calls came in about people impersonating family members or friends in attempts to convince victims to send money. Many took the bait, resulting in millions being wired to scammers.
Hood offered this advice if your phone rings:
Don’t wire money unless you have properly assessed the situation or in some way verified with others close to your loved one that they are really in trouble.
Be suspicious if your loved one requests or demands that you keep the phone call a secret by claiming to be embarrassed and/or scared.
Avoid panic. If you receive communication from a “loved one” (scammer) who claims to be traveling and is in some sort of distress or financial bind asking you to urgently wire them money, be calm and think. Does the story sound plausible?
Call before doing anything. Immediately after receiving the call or message, try calling your “loved one” back, but at the telephone number through which you normally reach that person to see if he or she reached out or attempted to reach out to you using an odd or long-distance number. It’s also a good idea to check with others to check out the story. For example, if the person claims to be your grandchild, call their parents or siblings and ask them to verify the details of the story.
“Our goal is to help educate and make our senior citizens and loved ones aware of these kinds of unfortunate and disheartening scams,” Hood said. “I strongly urge you to never give out any personal identifying information or account numbers to anyone unless you are certain the individual is who they claim to be and will use the information for the reason they have requested it.”
If you’ve been victimized or been approached with a scam like this, immediately report it to local law enforcement and the Attorney General’s Office of Consumer Protection Division at 601-359-4230 or 800-281-4418. You should also report it to the Federal Trade Commission at 877-FTC-HELP.
The attorney general’s office also has a publication called the Consumer’s Guide to Avoiding the Grandparent Scam. You can download it at http://bit.ly/2tBkOnP or call the Consumer Protection Division for a copy.
Correction to previous story: In my column last week about the group Parents Against Underage Smartphones (PAUS) and their attempt to place an initiative on the ballot in Colorado, I misstated the number of signatures the group is seeking to collect. Many news outlets have reported the number as 300,000, but Dr. Tim Farnum, president of the group, emailed me to state that number was in error and the number is actually just shy of 100,000. We strive to verify everything, but occasionally we get it wrong. Our apologies for the error.