The 79-year-old Hartville woman thought her grandson was hurt and in legal trouble. That’s what the caller said.
The caller claimed to be an attorney and said her 37-year-old grandson was injured and responsible for a bad accident. He could face jail time.
The caller told the woman, 79, that her grandson would need $8,500 cash for bond. She should send the money via UPS.
“Back of my mind, I had questions,” said the widow, who asked that her name not be used because of fear.
But the caller was persistent, calling multiple times, until she complied with his request. She withdrew money from her bank and followed the instructions, becoming a victim of an emergency scam.
What is the ‘Grandparent scam?’
The scam — also, known as the “grandparent scam” — preys on senior citizens pressuring them with false stories about helping family or friends out of legal or medical trouble.
It is not a new con. But it is a scam that has increased recently in the Stark County area and the Better Business Bureau wants to raise awareness.
The local BBB which serves 12 counties, including Stark, in Ohio and 52 counties in West Virginia, issued a warning Wednesday with advice to avoid scams.
“We’re getting calls daily (about the grandparent scam),” said Tiffany Nichols, the local agency’s marketing and community relations specialist.
Between 2015 and March 31, 2020, the Federal Trade Commission totaled more than 91,000 cases of grandparent scams nationwide.
She said callers target the older population and try to catch the unsuspecting victims at a vulnerable moment and create a chaotic situation. They incorporate real names in the victim’s life and other personal information they obtain on social media or data purchases to create almost believable stories.
“We put a lot of personal information out on social media,” Nichols said, noting that even a vacation photo can be helpful for a potential scam artist.
The caller also might just start the call with “Hey grandma,” Nichols said. “Is this John?” the victim might reply and that’s enough for the scam to ignite.
How to avoid becoming a victim?
So how do you avoid becoming the next victim? Here’s what BBB recommends:
- Do not panic.
- Ask questions that would be hard for the caller to answer correctly — the name of the person’s pet, for example.
- Contact the person who scammers claim to be directly. In the case of the Hartville grandmother, she said the caller dissuaded her from trying to confirm the situation with her grandson or his wife.
- If you can’t reach the person, contact another relative or friend to confirm the situation.
- Never send money unless you confirm the situation with someone you know.
- Never pay with prepaid gift cards — even if they ask — because once the scammers get the numbers from the cards the money is gone.
And lastly, scammers also will ask the victim to wire funds or mail cash through a service. If you suspect a scam, contact the service, and if the money is still there, you can retrieve it, the BBB said.
Remember her cautionary tale
For the Hartville woman, she realized her mistake after her grandson walked into her house the next day. None of the story was true. He was fine.
She asked UPS to track and stop the package.
They stopped it, she said, but there was a final twist in her cautionary tale. She never saw the package or cash again. It got lost in the system, the woman was told.
“I think the robbers got robbed,” she said.
This occurred last October, but the hurt and impact still resonates months later. The entire situation has made her more apprehensive now, she said.
“I hope this doesn’t happen to anyone else,” she said.
Reach Benjamin Duer at 330-580-8567 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow on Twitter @bduerREP