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Avoiding ‘Grandparent’ and other scams

By Dr. Don Taylor · Bankrate.com
Monday, August 11, 2014
Posted: 10 am ET

Last week four individuals were arrested in the Greater Philadelphia area for allegedly taking at least $162,600 from 11 senior citizens in eight states. They were running a scam called the "Grandparent scam," where they contacted seniors and told them a grandchild was in trouble and needed them to send money.

© Ammentorp Photography/Shutterstock.com

There's a lot of variants on this scam. I got an e-mail once from a former student whom I hadn't talked to in over a decade. The email said he was traveling in a foreign country, lost his passport and needed money to pay for legal fees to get out of the country. I didn't take the bait.

How to protect yourself

The FBI says that its Internet Crime Complaint Center, or IC3, has received reports about this type of scam since 2008. Its advice to avoid becoming a victim to the Grandparent scam:

• Resist the pressure to act quickly.
• Try to contact your grandchild or another family member to determine whether or not the call is legitimate.
• Never wire money based on a request made over the phone or in an e-mail...especially overseas. Wiring money is like giving cash -- once you send it, you can't get it back.

The Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force's website, stopfraud.gov, defines Elder Fraud and Financial Exploitation as "an act targeting older adults in which attempts are made to deceive with promises of goods, services or financial benefits that do not exist, were never intended to be provided or were misrepresented. Financial exploitation is the illegal or improper use of an older adult's funds or property."

The National Council on Aging, or NCOA, features the article 22 Tips for avoiding scams and swindles. It lists four major categories of fraud: health insurance fraud, Medicare scams, telemarketing scams and home repair or contractor fraud. The NCOA explains that scammers target seniors because of seniors' fears, frailties, their dependence on others and isolation.

The NCOA says that likely perpetrators are:

• Strangers preying on older people who may be isolated, lonely, confused or desperate for attention.
• Family members to whom the person wants to stay connected.
• Caregivers (family and other) who use fear or guilt to take advantage of a senior.

What's a senior to do? Learning about the potential scams you'll see and the potential for financial exploitation is important. On the scam side, I'm a new fan of OnGuardOnline.gov as a way to learn about online dangers and how to avoid scams. Financial exploitation by strangers, family members and caregivers is a little more complicated, but keeping track of your finances, keeping them secure and being cautious in financial dealings can go a long way toward keeping your money available to you.

Read  about 6 scams aimed at the elderly.

Have you ever fallen victim to a scam or financial exploitation? How do you protect yourself against these threats to your financial well being?

Follow me on Twitter @drdonsays.

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55 Comments
Cynthia Callahan
August 12, 2014 at 2:35 pm

My mother lives in a condo that is mostly seniors and she and numerous people in the building have received these calls recently, and in the past one person did send them money. When the local White Bear Lake police were contacted they did absolutely nothing. It seems to me there would be a way to trace these calls and they should have at least given her a referral number to the local FBI.

Kate Mills
August 12, 2014 at 2:12 pm

Roxanne this grandparents scam happened to my mother in law last year. She doesn't have dementia and is far from being addled brained or gullible. She is a smart woman who retired from a bank, has saved over the years and lives very comfortably. She is also a grandma who thought she was protecting her grandson from harm. She actually thought it sounded like him and although he isn't the kind of person who would even go to Mexico much less be jailed for drugs. She let her heart overrule her logic. You shouldn't be so critical of seniors. You will most likely be one someday.

Warren Wieland
August 12, 2014 at 12:50 pm

Last week I had a call from a man saying he was my grandson, Erik, and was in a little trouble. As he started to explain about an accident he had, I interrupted him and asked "Erik, what is your grandmother's first name"? He hesitated and then took a wild guess "Linda". That is not her name. I said you are trying to scam me, and hung up. One senior that wasn't fooled.

Marie
August 12, 2014 at 11:33 am

This scam is a little different from a phone call. Neighbors became very friendly with my parents over the course of a couple of years. Spent time with my elderly father and took him places to get him out of the house and provided some companionship. Well, all of a sudden, the girlfriend asked my mom if she could borrow some money to fly to California to pick up $200,000 for some stories that she had written. My mom originally said no, but Arlene (the scammer) cried and cried and my mom eventually gave her the credit card number (without telling any of her children). Needless to say, she paid her storage unit, bought Kiss tickets, clothes, daughter's school etc. to the grand total sum of $13,000!.. Long story short, she was found guilty through the courts and pays $10 per month to the court and they turn around and send a check to my Mom for $9.00 (they take $1.00 processing fee). Is this justice? She was found GUILTY! She just tells the court that is all she can afford. She still lives around the block from my Mom and has the nerve to walk their dog past our house. So sad that people can get away with scamming the elderly.

Sandy Meier
August 12, 2014 at 10:53 am

I received a call stating I won 3.5 million dollars. I had to purchase a 375.00 pay pal to give to the men when they came to give me my winnings.. They even said it was to pay the taxes before I could receive the check.The camera crew with the check would be here tomorrow , but I must show a receite for the pay pay purchase. I asked them if they thought I was born yesterday .I hung up. a few minutes I received a call with the man telling me it was a reputuable company and a few other choice words. I kept it and when I want a laugh I listen to it..
I am 74 years old and this is not the first call I got like that. The next one I just hung up on them.

Cheryl DeYoung
August 12, 2014 at 8:21 am

To Roxanne Gordon and others who are up to date on how easy it is to get scammed. The media is trying to help those older seniors who have never entered into the new world of scams. They have no way of knowing what some of us have learned thru our life experiences. We should praise the media for talking about this on television and in the newspapers. That may be the only way these seniors will find out about these scams. Especially if they have no family or other people in their life to guide them.

Roxanne Gordon
August 12, 2014 at 7:15 am

Why does the media think us seniors are so gullible and just plain stupid to fall for all these scams. If a handfull of addled brain seniors with dementia get suckered in why are we all lumped into that pool? My scam radar is working just fine thank you.

stef h
August 12, 2014 at 7:11 am

i don't answer any # i don't recognize. if it's my friends or family they know how to contact me.

Marsha Sperling
August 12, 2014 at 4:05 am

On Aug.6,2014, I received an email stating it was from Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes & that I had won an award prize of a large sum of money. I was instructed to contact APX Courier Company for delivery of award prize. I have not made a purchase or been in contact with Publishers Clearing House. Is this a scam of some sort?

Pat Foote
August 11, 2014 at 11:03 pm

Several weeks ago I had a call the caller said because I always paid my bills on time and had no debts the IRS was going to give me a $9000.00 reward. I told him he could have the $9000.00. I knew what was coming next he would need more information and numbers.

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