It starts with a frantic phone call from a grandchild.
I’m in trouble. I need your help. I need money fast. I love you. Please don’t tell anyone.
It all seems so real … but is it?
Be careful, it could be a ‘grandparent scam,’ where criminals try to trick caring grandparents out of thousands of dollars. And it’s happening more frequently.
With the popularity of the Internet and people willing to share a lot of personal information, scammers can learn enough about your family to find targets and make their stories sound frighteningly real.
The scammer pretending to be your grandchild – or even another family member or friend - will usually claim they’ve been arrested, injured or robbed in a big city or a foreign country … And they’ll say they need you to wire them money quickly so they can get help.
The caller might even hand the phone to someone else - claiming to be a police officer, doctor, or some other official -so the story seems more believable.
What should you do?
While it’s natural to be concerned, it’s important to slow things down and think.
Start by asking yourself a couple questions: Does this sound anything like your grandchild? Had anyone in the family mentioned they’d be traveling?
Ask the caller questions only your real grandchild would likely know – like maybe what grade school they went to, their first pet’s name, or their mom or dad’s middle name.
And even if the caller begs you not to tell anyone about the situation, it’s important that you take the time to check the story. Tell the caller to give you a phone number or to call you back, then try calling the grandchild’s actual phone number or another family member to verify where they might be.
And be especially wary if the caller is asking you to wire them money, because these transfers can be hard to track once the criminal picks the cash up. And once they get the money, you can’t get it back.
If something like this happens to you and you verify that it’s a scam, make sure you call local law enforcement or your state’s Attorney General’s office. Tell them what happened, and if the phone number shows on your telephone, write that down and pass it along as well.
The U.S. State Department recommends that you go online and check the area or country code of the phone number to see if it matches the location the caller claims to be at.
Remember, it’s natural to be concerned, but be careful so you don't get conned.