Grandparents Scam Active in Connecticut, Officials Warn
Three Redding residents lost a total of nearly $200,000 to someone claiming to be the victim's child or grandchild or by someone claiming to have that loved one in jail, often in Mexico. In the calls to Redding residents, the caller typically impersonated a resident, lawyer or police officer. They then asked the target to send cash to a specific location or make a wire transfer into a bank account. Similarly, in Newington, a woman reported that she was contacted by phone and told that a relative had been arrested for driving under the influence, then asked for $100,000. A second caller followed up, addressing her by the ethnic nickname for grandmother that her grandson uses.
Though banks typically question large sums of cash being withdrawn by seniors, scammers will often give the victim instructions about what to say to the teller if questioned.
“I urge everyone to talk right away to their family and friends about this scam, which is now operating in Connecticut,” Consumer Protection Commissioner William M. Rubenstein said. “The amounts being requested are significant and we don’t want anyone else to fall victim.”
Department on Aging Commissioner Margaret Gerundo-Murkette advises anyone who receives one of these calls to immediately contact the local police. “Do not send money. If a relative truly needs help, the police can confirm it without putting anyone -- except the fraudsters -- in danger,” she said.
“Don’t be afraid to ask questions, or just hang up the phone to verify your loved ones whereabouts or call the police, AARP State Director Nora Duncan said. “A con artists’ number one goal is to get you to think with your heart, not your head. As soon as you get emotional, you stop thinking and acting rationally. That’s when you become a victim.”
Here are more tips for avoiding this scam.
Don't fill in the blanks for the caller. If he or she says, "Hi Grandpa!" or "It's me, your favorite grandson," make the caller provide a name by asking something like "Which one?" Many scammers will hang up, unable to answer, but some may actually have the actual name, which they could have gotten on Facebook, ancestry websites or other online sources. Don’t assume that if they know the name, the call is legitimate.
Ask the caller specific questions to prove who they are. It's unlikely that a scammer will know the name of a grandchild's family pet or what birthday present was provided or received. Expect a quick hang-up from scammers who cannot provide it.
Consider establishing a secret code word in advance with your family that can be used in the event of an emergency.
Don't trust requests for wire transfers or use prepaid cards. Scammers like them because they are hard to trace and the money can be picked up anywhere in the world as if it were cash. Worse, when money is sent to another country, outside the jurisdiction of U.S. law enforcement, it's virtually impossible to recoup losses.
The best advice: Just hang up on "help me" calls. And certainly, before sending money, confirm your loved one’s whereabouts and safety by phoning them or their parents.
The Department of Consumer Protection, AARP of Connecticut and law enforcement are among the active participants in the State Department on Aging-led Coalition for Elder Rights in Connecticut. The Coalition promotes communication and collaboration among a broad-based group of public and private stakeholders throughout the state that are addressing elder justice issues in order to provide a unified front against abuse, and to promote the independence, security, and well-being of older persons in Connecticut..
AARP’s Fraud Watch Network (www.aarp.org/fraudwatchnetwork) helps protect families from identity theft, scams and fraud. The Network gives people access to information, resources and experts about the newest schemes as well as insights on what to do if victimized. Fraud and scam information is also available on the Department of Consumer Protection’s website, www.smartconsumer.ct.gov.
Jennifer L. Millea, AARP CT