A Mercer Island couple were conned recently into thinking a grandson needed help and wired $3,000 to thieves. They are embarrassed and horrified, but they are not alone. In the so-called ‘grandparent scam,’ older adults are tricked into thinking a relative is in trouble and needs money, then end up wiring cash to strangers. It is happening more often than you might expect.
Police say nearly anyone who calls you and wants you to wire money to them is trying to steal from you.
But what if it really is a family member in need?
Fraud experts say, “don’t believe it.”
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.
Here’s how to help detect a scam:
1. You ask the questions. Don’t ‘fill in the blanks’ for the scammer. Don’t offer any information.
Caller: “It’s your granddaughter.”
Grandparent: “Oh, 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.
• You’re asked to send money quickly — and secretly.
• The call or message often 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 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 use these services so that 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.
So, why do they contact you?
The Washington, D.C.-based Consumer Federation of America points out that personal information about you and your relatives can be easily found online or by hacking into an email account or simply picking up a newspaper or a telephone book. Sometimes they contact people randomly. But they also use: marketing lists, information from social networking sites, and even obituaries where it is easy to find names of the relatives of the deceased and where they live.
• Again, 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.
• Find out more. 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.
And finally, trust your gut. If it doesn’t feel right, hang up the phone.