As we age, the role of caretaker shifts, and it becomes our responsibility to look out for the well-being of our elders. With the number and complexity of identity and financial scams emerging, it is increasingly difficult to keep track of them all. In a CBS News investigation, an admitted con artist has revealed how one particular scam targets and steals money from grandparents.
The scam begins with something most grandparents don’t get enough of — a phone call from a grandchild — or so the caller says. But it almost always ends with a desperate plea for money, with a criminal on the other end of the line making up to $10,000 a day.
Usually part of a large, elaborate scheme, scammers call senior citizens, impersonating a grandchild in distress, begging for cash. An example of a typical call the criminal recalls, “Hey, how are you, hi grandma, hi grandpa… I’m in a little bit of trouble right now. If I tell you, just keep it between us. I’m on vacation, but I got into a little accident and I was arrested for a DUI. Things got out of control, and I need you to send me the money.” According to the con-artist interviewed, approximately one out of 50 called fell victim to the scam.
It’s estimated senior citizens are robbed of roughly $3 billion a year in financial scams. Phone scams are often run outside the U.S. Con artists usually buy their victims’ personal information online, including age and income. Scammers tend to target people over the age of 65, mainly, because they’re perceived as more gullible. They’re at home and more accessible. Once they become emotionally involved, then they are likely to do anything to help the caller. Even doctors and lawyers fall for this; it doesn’t matter what their educational level is because it triggers something emotional and causes them to act.
The effect on the victims is extremely difficult. It’s not simply the loss of the money; they feel stupid, gullible, have nightmares about it, and experience anxiety and depression. The former scammer confided the reason he took the money was because he thought they made so much that they wouldn’t miss it. In most cases, they never get it back as it’s spent almost immediately by the con-artists.
It’s hard to tell how many senior citizens have been scammed like this, because there is no national database to track the grandparent scam and many grandparents are so embarrassed to report it to police. It’s also very hard to catch these criminals, especially when they’re operating outside the U.S. Also, their tactics can be highly sophisticated, such as disguising their phone numbers with a familiar number.
To help guard against this kind of act, people should ask a question that only their grandchild would know, such as the name of a pet, and confide in someone — even though the person on the other end of the line will beg you to keep it a secret. At some banks, employees are even being trained to look for suspicious requests from elderly customers and alert management. Even with such safeguards in place, increased awareness is one of the best preventative measures.
You can also report a scam to the AARP Fraud Watch Network which connects you to the latest information about scams and fraud so you can safeguard your personal information and your pocketbook. You can also receive fraud alerts. Go to: www.aarp.org/fraudwatchnetwork or contact the AARP Foundation Fraud Fighter Call Center at 1-800-646-2283. You do not need to be an AARP member to join.