The FBI is warning citizens to be aware of the resurfacing of the "Grandparent Scam" -- a con that targets elderly people and can cost them thousands of dollars.
According to the FBI field office in San Diego, Calif., a typical scam goes something like this:
You're a grandparent, and you get a phone call or an email from someone who identifies himself as your grandson. "I've been arrested in another country," he says, "and need money wired quickly to pay my bail. And, oh by the way, don't tell my mom or dad because they'll only get upset!"
That is an example of what has come to be known as the "grandparent scam" -- yet another in a lengthy list of frauds that prey on the elderly.
The con has been around since about 2008, but has become more advanced over time. The perpetrators are now using the Internet and social media websites to research potential targets, the FBI warns.
"For example, the actual grandson may mention on his social networking site that he's a photographer who often travels to Mexico. When contacting the grandparents, the phony grandson will say he's calling from Mexico, where someone stole his camera equipment and passport," the FBI reported in a press release on Monday.
Other common scenarios the Bureau has witnessed include:
- A grandparent receives a phone call or email from a "grandchild." If it is phone call, it's often late at night or early in the morning when most people are not thinking clearly. Usually, the person claims to be traveling in a foreign country and has been arrested, involved in an accident or mugged -- and needs money wired ASAP. The caller does not want his or her parents notified.
- Sometimes, instead of the "grandchild" making the phone call, the criminal pretends to be an arresting police officer, a lawyer, a doctor at a hospital, or some other person. The FBI has also received complaints about the phony grandchild talking first and then handing the phone over to an accomplice to further spin the fake tale.
- The FBI has also received reports of military families victimized. After perusing a soldier's social networking site, a con artist will contact the soldier's grandparents, sometimes claiming that a problem came up during military leave that requires money to address.
While the con is commonly called the "grandparent scam," criminals may also claim to be a family friend, a niece or nephew, or another family member.
Financial losses in these cases can be substantial and usually cost the victim several thousand dollars. Those amounts do not meet the FBI's financial thresholds for opening an investigation, however victims can seek assistance from their local authorities or state consumer protection agency.
If you find yourself in a situation where someone is contacting you for money, the FBI advises you resist the pressure to act quickly and try to contact the grandchild or another family member to determine whether or not the call is legitimate. And, never wire money based on a request made over the phone or in an email. Wiring money is like giving cash -- once you send it, you cannot get it back.
For more information on this and similar scams, visit the FBI's new E-Scams and Warnings webpage.