This past month the New York State Police in Columbia County have begun investigating multiple reports of the “Grandparents Scam”. These scams usually involve someone calling to claim that someone’s grandchild or other relative has been arrested (and a bail bondsman) needs to be paid immediately and in some cases an amount as high as $30,000.
In one recent case in Chatham, the victims left $12,000 outside of their house to be picked up by a “courier.” Another case involved payments of cash to be sent through the mail hidden inside old magazines.
Another prevalent scam currently used attempts to convince the victim a relative was involved in a serious accident and money is needed for medical payments. These scams ask for large sums of money transferred in unusual ways devoid of any face-to-face interaction. Once these thieves have extracted money they may also call back and try to get more.
The New York State Police offer the following tips to protect against the Grandparent Scam:
- Take a pause. Scammers create a sense of urgency to prey on victims’ emotions and their love for family members.
- Verify any supposed emergency by calling friends and family before sending money. This is especially important if a potential victim has been warned not to do so.
- A grandparent may think they would know whether they were speaking to their own grandchild or to an imposter, but it is easy to be fooled. The caller may be crying, or the background may be noisy, or the caller may claim the connection is bad.
- If the caller purports to be a bail bonds person, ask where the relative is being held and contact the facility directly. Grandparents can also call their local police department, where officers may be able to call the jail and confirm the story.
- Be suspicious of anyone who calls unexpectedly asking to be sent money.
- Never send cash through the mail.
- Never purchase pre-paid debit cards or gift cards for the purpose of transferring money.
- Develop a secret code or “password” with family members that can be used to verify the identity of family members over the phone.
- Ask a question that only the real grandchild would know the answer to, such as “what was the name of your first pet?”
- Set Facebook and other social media settings to private to limit the information available to scammers, such as the name of grandchildren.
In 2020, the Federal Trade Commission received 24,545 complaints of individuals impersonating family members and friends, up from 20,234 in 2019. New Yorkers alone filed 1,359 complaints in 2020.
Additional information about the Grandparent Scam can be found on the Office of the Attorney General’s website. New Yorkers who have been targeted by this scam are urged to file a complaint by completing and submitting a Consumer Frauds and Protection Bureau online complaint form or by calling (800) 771-7755.