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July 09, 2008
Consumer Alert: “Grandparent scam” targets Washington elderly again

RICHLAND – If your grandchild called seeking help, would you send money? The Washington Attorney General’s Office is warning Washington residents about the “grandparent scam,” where cons posing as relatives try to convince elderly victims to wire cash to help pay for emergency car repairs, medical bills – or even post bail.

An Eastern Washington man contacted the Attorney General’s Office after his 87-year-old mother nearly fell for the scam. The Tri-Cities woman received a call this week from a young man who said “Hi, this is your grandson. I’m in trouble.” The caller spun a tale about wrecking a car in Canada and said he immediately needed $3,000.

The grandmother became suspicious, managed to end the call without divulging any personal information and promptly called her family. Her grandson was safe at home.

Known as the “grandparent scam” or “grandchild scam,” similar calls have been reported throughout the country for several years. The cons tend to target elderly people who might have trouble recognizing voices over the phone. Because the cons usually claim to be embarrassed and ask to keep the incident a secret, victims neglect to verify the story before sending money.

UPDATE: Grandparents in Western Washington have recently reported that they have become victims of this scam.

Here’s how to help detect a scam:

1. Don’t fill in the blanks for the scammer. For example:

Caller: "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.

Just last week, Attorney General Rob McKenna announced a multistate agreement with MoneyGram that aims to prevent U.S. residents from becoming victims of wire transfer scams. MoneyGram will pay $1.1 million to fund a national peer-counseling program to be overseen by the AARP Foundation. The company also agreed to print an attention-grabbing warning on its form that is used to send money and provide enhanced training to branch agents. State attorneys general reached a similar agreement in 2005 with Western Union.

Media Contact: Kristin Alexander, Media Relations Manager –Seattle, (206) 464-6432

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