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Grandparent Scam FAQs

Con Artists Exploit Family Ties, Concern

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Maybe you've heard of the grandparent scam. If you haven't, it's even more important that you read the answers to these grandparent scam FAQs. Don't become a victim or let a loved one be victimized.

Q. What is the grandparent scam?

A. The grandparent scam is a form of telephone fraud. The scammer phones a grandparent and pretends to be a grandchild in distress and asks that funds be wired to a specified location.

Q. How does the scammer choose a target?

A. No one knows for sure. Phone calls may be made at random until an elderly person answers, or scammers may be harvesting information from the Internet that enables them to choose targets. Some have suggested Facebook as a possible source of information.

Q. Why doesn't the target realize that the caller is not a grandchild?

A. If the target says that the caller does not sound like his or her grandchild, the scammers may blame a bad connection or a cold.

Q. Does the scammer know the grandchild's name?

A. It appears that sometimes the scammers have the correct names at their disposal. This is one reason some investigators think that scammers are gleaning information from the Internet. More often, however, the scammers may elicit the name of a grandchild from the target, who often does not even realize that he or she has supplied a name.

Q. What kind of stories do the grandparent scammers use?

A. The scammers often say that the grandchild needs money because of an accident, an injury, a theft or an arrest. Sometimes the "grandchild" pleads that other family members not be told because DUI or embarrassing circumstances are involved.

Q. Can victims of the grandparent scam recover their money?

A. Due to the nature of wire transfers and the fact that most cases involve U.S. citizens wiring money to other countries, recovery of funds is very difficult.

Q. What amounts of money are involved?

A. Amounts can vary widely, starting with less than $1000. Often scammers who are successful in persuading targets to wire money will immediately ask for a second transfer. Channel 10 News in San Diego reported a 2011 case in which an elderly woman sent $132,000 to China.

Q. What countries are implicated in the grandparent scam?

A. Most cases originate in Canada, but scammers in Puerto Rico and China are joining the action.

Q. Why can't we catch the scammers?

A. The nature of international wire transfers makes it difficult to catch the perpetrators. Many times they use prepaid cell phones that cannot be traced. Some scammers have been caught and charged.

Q. How can one avoid being a victim?

A. Never wire money to an unknown person. If you receive a call about a family member in distress in a foreign country, verify the information with family members.

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