A guest post by Eva Velasquez, CEO, Identity Theft Resource Center
There’s nothing in the world quite like the love of a grandparent…and scammers are counting on that. There have been so many reports in recent years that one particularly horrific scam has its own term: the grandparent scam.
While this scam can manifest in different ways with different friends or relatives—meaning you don’t have to be a grandparent for this to impact you—the typical scenario is that your grandchild is somehow in trouble, and if you don’t send money immediately, he or she will end up suffering in some way. In the past, common scenarios involved stories like, “Your grandson is stranded out here in Texas and needs a transmission, I can’t order the part for him until someone pays me.” Another more frightening and typical story was, “Hi Grandma, I’ve been arrested while on vacation here in Mexico, and unless you pay my fine, I will be sentenced to prison.”
These scams aren’t new, and they worked even better in the days before most people had cell phones. Not being able to contact your loved one to verify their safety made it all the more plausible.
Now, with the widespread availability of cell phones, scammers have had to up the emotional stakes in order to get victims to fall for this kind of attempt. Some of the reports of this scam have included kidnapping stories, in which the caller claims to have your loved one and demands an immediate ransom payment. Even more frightening, some victims of these calls reported hearing a young person or child screaming in the background, as if in pain.
You might be wondering how these scammers know which individuals to target, and the answer is simple. Similar to identity theft scams, your social media posts can tell cyber criminals far more about you than you may want to share, and scammers are very good at connecting the dots. Even with your accounts set to private, there are still things outsiders can access, like your shared photos and your friends list. It’s not hard to find some people in a photo—such as a family birthday celebration—and scour your contacts for a name. A first name and a few key details from the photo—“It’d be a shame if something happened to Amy’s pretty blue eyes…”—can be enough to send anyone running for their wallet to pay up. Social media is not the only way thieves can learn more about you. Scammers will often buy your personal information online on what is known as the dark web, so in many cases they know personal data like your age and will target you accordingly. And, even if the scammer doesn’t know any details about you or your life, they will still make the call and pretend to actually be your relative in need of help or contact you to send money to help your grandchild.
Fortunately, the mobile phone era means it’s easier than ever to verify if someone is OK. Should you receive a call like this, you can keep the scammer on the line while you attempt to text your loved one; just be aware if you text while using your cell phone, the caller will hear you tapping out the message, so type slowly. Something as simple as “R U ok?” can tell you all you need to know. Also, in many of the reports of this scam, the caller demanded payment in the form of any untraceable method, like a prepaid debit card, iTunes gift card, or wire transfer. Those aren’t items you have lying around the house, so agree to comply then contact your relative while you’re pretending to go to the store.
When the situation is resolved to your satisfaction, it’s important that you alert your local law enforcement agency through a non-emergency number.
As the leader in identity fraud protection, ID Experts proudly provides financial support to the Identity Theft Resource Center