September 9, 2016
More than 30 Ohioans have reported losing money to the “grandparent scam” this year, after they received a phony call claiming their grandchild was in trouble. The average loss was about $4,000.
The grandparent scam often begins with a phone call saying a grandchild was in an accident, found with drugs, driving under the influence, arrested, or thrown in jail. Grandparents are told to pay to cover bail, medical or hospital fees, attorney fees, or court costs.
The callers generally instruct grandparents to go to the store right away to buy gift cards (such as iTunes or Amazon gift cards) and then read the card numbers over the phone. This allows scammers to drain the cards’ funds almost instantly. Alternatively, grandparents may be asked to pay via money transfer or even cash.
If grandparents pay once, they likely will receive additional calls telling them to send more money to help the grandchild return home safely. Eventually, grandparents discover that their grandchild was not truly in trouble.
Tips to prevent grandparent scams:
- Communicate with your family members. Talk to your family about scams and discuss how you would communicate during a true emergency.
- Verify a caller’s claims. If you receive a call about a family member who claims to be in trouble, contact someone else (such as the person’s parents) to determine if the person truly needs your help. Be wary if the caller says “Don’t tell mom or dad” or asks you not to contact any other family members. This is a tactic used by scammers. When in doubt, ask questions only your real family members would know how to answer, such as the last time you saw each other.
- Limit sharing information online. Don’t post upcoming travel plans or detailed personal information online, and encourage your family members to take similar precautions. Scammers may use information available online to learn more about their targets and to make their ploys seem believable. Check your account privacy settings and limit who can view your information.
- Be wary of specific payment requests. If someone tells you that you must pay using a gift card, prepaid reloadable card, money transfer, or cash, it may be a scam. These payment methods are difficult to trace and used regularly in scams. Once the money is sent, it is very difficult to recover.