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‘Grandparent Scam’ Costing MI Seniors Thousands

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LANSING (WWJ) - Attorney General Bill Schuette issued a new consumer alert to advise Michigan seniors to be on guard for telephone con artists scamming grandparents out of thousands of dollars by posing as grandchildren in distress.

“Criminals are preying upon the natural instinct of grandparents to help a grandchild in trouble,” Schuette said in a release. “Michigan seniors should remain on guard for unsolicited calls and refrain from sending any money until they contact a family member or friend who can verify if a grandchild is truly in trouble.”  

The Michigan Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division reports a recent increase in calls from Michigan seniors relating to the Grandparents Scam over the last two weeks.

Criminals are targeting Michigan seniors, and victims report losses ranging from $1,000 to $5,000. All victims sent the money by electronic wire and were asked to keep the transaction a secret.

In one instance, grandparents were taken for $33,000.  They wire transferred $3,000 to someone they thought was their grandson after he called and claimed he was caught fishing without a license in Canada and needed to pay a $3,000 fine. They were taken for an additional $30,000 after the supposed grandson called again to say that alcohol and drugs were found when his boat was searched, and he needed $30,000 to post bond to get out of a Canadian jail.

A variation of the scam may involve two scammers – the first scammer calls and poses as a grandchild under arrest. The second scammer, posing as some type of law enforcement officer, then gets on the phone with the grandparent and explains what fines need to be paid. Alternatively, the scammer may pretend to be a family friend or neighbor.

In some cases, the senior citizen unknowingly “fills in the blanks” for the thief. For instance, the senior answers the phone, the scammer says something like, “Hi Grandma, it’s me, your favorite grandchild,” the grandparent guesses the name of the grandchild the caller sounds most like, and the scammer takes on that grandchild’s identity for the remainder of the call.

The callers are often professional criminals who are skillfully able to get you to wire money or give personal information before you have time to properly assess the situation. Wire transfers of money are nearly impossible to trace and typically cannot be recovered from the telephone con artists.

Schuette advises Michigan seniors to be suspicious of any unsolicited telephone calls, but especially unsolicited telephone calls where: 

- A “grandchild” is calling from a far away location; the “grandchild” avoids mention of his or her name, simply saying, “It’s me,” or “It’s your grandson,” or “It’s your favorite grandchild.”

-The “grandchild” is in some type of trouble or distress.

-The caller asks for money, either to be wired through Western Union or MoneyGram, or for access to bank account routing numbers

-The “grandchild” insists upon keeping the urgent need for money a secret.

Schuette’s advises seniors who receive such calls to stay calm and avoid acting out of a sense of urgency.

Schuette recommends grandparents take the time to verify the identity and location of a grandchild claiming to be in trouble.  These details can be used to confirm the grandchild’s whereabouts with another family member.

The Attorney General advises that consumers should never provide personal financial information to anyone who calls them – regardless of whom the caller claims to be.

Citizens who believe they may have been contacted by a con artist using the Grandparent Scam are encouraged to file complaints with the Attorney General’s office online at www.michigan.gov/ag (click the “File a Complaint” button) or by calling 877-765-8388.

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