Officials with the Better Business Bureau of Northeast California are warning older adults about a new twist in an old telephone scam that preys on grandparents who think they are helping their grandchildren in an emergency. The scam, which first surfaced in 2008, involves a grandparent receiving a call from a person claiming to be their grandson or granddaughter who is in legal trouble in a foreign country and needs emergency cash. To make the pleas seem even more urgent, calls are usually made in the middle of the night, and the scammer always insists that funds be sent by wire or overnight delivery.
In the past, wary would-be victims could easily rattle the scammer by asking personal questions only certain people could answer, such as the name of a childhood pet, their nickname, or the college they attended. Today, however, with the popularity of social networking sites, such as MySpace, Facebook, and even Twitter, the bureau said the scammer may already have that information and a lot more. For example, the bureau said that a Sacramento grandmother was recently contacted by a young woman who claimed to be her granddaughter. The girl said she was arrested in Canada and needed $4,500 wired to her to get out of jail. Even after asking several questions, the grandmother said she was absolutely convinced the girl was her granddaughter. It turns out that the scammer was looking at a Facebook page the real granddaughter had posted and was simply reading off dozens of facts about the family, addresses, and where she went to college. The information was easily accessible, because the granddaughter’s Facebook privacy settings weren’t high enough, allowing her account to be viewed by just about anyone.
Similar stories are hitting us here at home as well. The Denton Record Chronicle reported that someone tried to scam a man for $11,200. The man explained that a young man who sounded like his grandson called, saying that he was arrested in Canada and needed $11,200 wired to him to pay his bail. At that point, another man claiming to be “Officer Sullivan” came on the line and told the grandfather that he arrested his grandson in Ontario after finding marijuana in his car. The officer then gave the grandfather instructions on how to wire the money to an “international bondsman” in Houston and were the nearest wire service was in Denton.
The grandfather did wire the money to the bondsman, but when he returned home, he received a call from his grandson saying that he was not in Canada and was not in jail. Fortunately, the grandfather was able to go back to the wiring service and cancel his transaction.
Unfortunately, this scam has been around for awhile. The Social Media SEO blogged about it last year, urging everyone to warn friends and family about this scam. Most likely our grandparents are not using Facebook or any other social media site, so be sure to advise your grandparents about this scam and also make sure your privacy settings on any social media network are set so only your friends and family can see your information.