For Immediate Release - August 30, 2012

AG Coakley Alerts Elderly Consumers to be Wary of “Grandparent Scams”

BOSTON – In an effort to better inform consumers of possible scams, Attorney General Martha Coakley is alerting seniors to be wary of the “grandparent scam” in which imposters prey upon the elderly by posing as relatives in trouble, tricking them into sending money. 

“These scams prey on many of our seniors to get money from well-meaning relatives,” AG Coakley said. “Their stories often involve information about an individual’s family to make the scenario sound authentic. Consumers should not be afraid to ask questions, say no, and simply hang up the phone if they believe they have been engaged in a scam.”

In a typical scenario, the caller tells the victim that he or she has been arrested overseas and is in need of money in order to be released by local authorities. The caller stresses the urgency of the situation and often claims to be embarrassed, asking the senior not to tell anyone else in the family about the call. The caller then asks the senior to wire money through a wire transfer service such as Western Union or Money Gram so they can get the money quickly, in cash, and before the senior realizes they have been cheated. Typically, there is no way to reverse the transaction, trace the money, or recover payment. In a variation of this scheme, the victim also receives a call from a second individual purporting to be a law enforcement official, who verifies the story.

In some cases, the callers offer personal details to add credibility to their calls. Details such as the names of family members, addresses, and even birth dates are often easily obtained by scammers online. Scammers can even learn about someone’s travel plans through Facebook and other social networking websites.

In some scenarios, the caller prompts the victim to unwittingly divulge information. For example, the caller begins by saying, “Hi Grandma, it’s me, your favorite grandson,” and the victim supplies the caller with the name of the grandchild the caller sounds the most like. The caller then pretends to be that person.

Here are some tips to avoid being scammed:

Be extremely suspicious when you receive a telephone call when:

  • The caller says he or she is a grandchild or relative;
  • The caller is in another country or a far-away location;
  • The caller is in trouble and urgently needs money (i.e., bail money to be released from jail, or money for a hospital bill);
  • The caller requests secrecy;
  • The caller asks for the funds to be sent by wire transfer.

If you receive a call from someone claiming to know you and asking for money or other help:

  • Don’t be fooled by details: scammers often get enough information from the internet to sound authentic;
  • Don’t volunteer information to the caller until you have confirmed his or her identity;
  • Check with other family members to confirm that the request for help is legitimate;
  • Ask questions that would be difficult for an imposter to answer correctly (i.e., the last time you saw each other, or the date of his parents’ wedding anniversary);
  • Directly contact the person who the caller claims to be;
  • Guard the personal information you disclose online. If you use social networking websites, be aware of what information you make available on them, familiarize yourself with privacy settings so that you are aware who can view information that you make available, and only divulge information that you are comfortable having that audience view.

The Attorney General’s Office fields thousands of inquiries pertaining to scams and can direct consumers to the appropriate agency to file a complaint. One of those is the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).  If a transaction is made, consumers should also contact the wire transfer agency used, although there may be little recourse to get the money back. Before sending any money overseas, consumers may contact the State Department’s Office of Overseas Citizens Services (OCS) at (888) 407-4747, to help verify whether the situation is legitimate or a scam. 

Consumer information specific to the grandparent scam is available on the FTC’s website, www.ftc.gov.  Additional information and resources pertaining to consumer scams are available on the Attorney General’s website

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