Earlier this year, Takoma Park Police were called for the report of a fraud scheme. The victim had received a phone call from a suspect who claimed to be a friend of the victim’s granddaughter. An elaborate story was given explaining that the victim’s granddaughter was a passenger in a vehicle that was pulled over for a traffic violation in Canada. During the alleged traffic stop, authorities were to have found and seized drugs and that all occupants of the vehicle were arrested. The caller gave a specific amount of refundable money that would need to be sent in order to post bail for the granddaughter. The victim was instructed to go to a Western Union near her home and transfer the funds to another Western Union located in Lima, Peru. In this case, the victim did go to the Western Union, concerned for her granddaughter’s welfare, and transferred the requested funds to the location given. After the transaction was completed, the victim called a number to give the purported official the transaction number. The money was retrieved by the suspect and the victim never heard from anyone again.
This type of scam is known as the "Grandparent Scam" and it’s targeting Washington’s elderly. If your grandchild called seeking help, would you send money? In the "Grandparent Scam" cons are posing as relatives to try and convince elderly victims to wire cash to help pay for emergency car repairs, medical bills – or even post bail.
Here’s how to detect a scam:
1. Don’t fill in the blanks for the scammer. For example:
Caller: "Hi, it’s your granddaughter."
Grandparent: "Which one?"
Most likely, the con will then hang up.
2. Do whatever is necessary to confirm the real relative’s whereabouts. Call your grandchild’s home, school or work.
3. Don’t send money unless you have verified that your relative is really in trouble. If a caller asks for your bank account number or urges you to send money via Western Union or MoneyGram for any reason, that’s a good indication of a scam. Cons prefer wire transfers because they are fast, there are transfer agents in most communities and funds can be picked up in multiple locations.
Below are some red flags and tips to help avoid falling prey to this scam. Scammers are tough to track down, so please continue to get the word out to your family and relatives before they become victims.
- You’re asked to send money quickly – and secretly.
- The call or message originates from overseas. However, you should be aware that technology allows scammers to bypass caller ID systems.
- The person can’t or won’t answer questions that only the real person would know.
- Any time someone asks you to send money by Western Union or MoneyGram, it’s invariably a scam. You might also be asked to send a check or money order by overnight delivery. Con artists recommend these services so they can steal your money before you realize you’ve been cheated. Money transfers can be picked up at any service location as long as the thief/recipient has the confirmation number.
- Avoid volunteering information over the phone. Always ask callers to identify themselves by name and ask individuals who contact you to provide information that only you and people close to you would know.
- Call the friend or relative claiming to need your help to confirm whether the story is true, using a phone number you know to be genuine. If you aren’t able to contact the person, call other friends or family members to confirm the situation.
- Refuse to send money via wire transfer.
- If you have wired money and it hasn’t been picked up yet, call the wire transfer service to cancel the transaction. Once the money has been picked up, there is no way to get it back.
- Trust your gut!
The Attorney General’s Office successfully negotiated agreements with Western Union in 2005 and MoneyGram in 2008 in which the "send forms" used to transfer money have required warnings in English and Spanish. An example of that warning can be found at http://www.atg.wa.gov/uploadedFiles/Home/News/Press_Releases/2008/MoneyGramsendform.pdfWarn loved ones about the "Grandparent Scam" and other money-wiring schemes. Elderly residents continue to be robbed of as much as $13,000 because they haven’t heard the warning. If you haven’t talked to the seniors in your life about this scam, now is the time.