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.
A Tri-Cities woman nearly fell for the scam. The 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. In fact, her grandson was safe at home.
UPDATE: Our office also received a report from an Auburn couple who lost $4,800! Another local couple lost $1,000 in this scam, according to this KOMO TV report.
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.
[UPDATE - 1/21/11: The Attorney General's Office has repeatedly issued warnings about this scam. Below are red flags and tips to help avoid it. Unfortunately, scammers are very tough to track down. So please help 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 the 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.