GRAFTON, Mass. — Although I've posted warnings to be cautious about fraud and phone scams directed toward the elderly, the Grafton Police Department continues to receive calls and complaints regarding this issue.
Just last week, a resident reported that she received a call from a “law enforcement agency” located out of the country stating they were holding a relative and he needed $2,500 cash for bail. The “agency” told the resident how and where she could send the money to bail her relative out. The resident stated she was about to send the money as instructed but decided to call the relative to see if she could contact him. Sure enough, the relative was fine and was not being held by any law enforcement agency.
To help citizens avoid being victimized by these scams, we would once again like to present the following information offered by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the AARP, formerly the American Association of Retired Persons.
You’re a grandparent, and you get a phone call or an email from someone who identifies himself as your grandson. “I've been arrested in another country,” he says, “and need money wired quickly to pay my bail. And by the way, don’t tell my mom or dad because they’ll only get upset!”
This is an example of what’s come to be known as the grandparent scam — yet another fraud that preys on the elderly, this time by taking advantage of their love and concern for their grandchildren.
The grandparent scam has been around for a few years, but the scam and scam artists have become more sophisticated. Thanks to the Internet and social networking sites, criminals can sometimes uncover personal information about their targets, which makes the impersonations more believable.
Common scenarios include:
- A grandparent receives a phone call (or sometimes an email) from a “grandchild.” If it is a phone call, it’s often late at night or early in the morning when most people aren't thinking that clearly. Usually, the person claims to be traveling in a foreign country and has gotten into a bad situation, like being arrested for drugs, getting in a car accident or being mugged — and needs money wired ASAP. And the caller doesn't want his or her parents told.
- Sometimes, instead of the “grandchild” making the phone call, the criminal pretends to be an arresting police officer, a lawyer, a doctor at a hospital, or some other person. And we've also received complaints about the phony grandchild talking first and then handing the phone over to an accomplice to further spin the fake tale.
- While it’s commonly called the grandparent scam, criminals may also claim to be a family friend, a niece or nephew, or another family member.
What to do if you have been scammed: The financial losses in these cases — while they can be substantial for an individual, usually several thousand dollars per victim — typically don’t meet the FBI’s financial thresholds for opening an investigation. Contact the Grafton Police Department if you think you've been victimized.
Advice to avoid being victimized in the first place:
- Resist the pressure to act quickly.
- Verify the caller. Always confirm your grandchild’s (or other relatives) identity by saying you will return the call at his or her home or on his cell phone (but don’t ask the caller for it). If you don’t have your grandchildren’s phone numbers, contact a trusted family member for them.
- Try to contact your grandchild or another family member to determine whether or not the call is legitimate.
- Never wire money based on a request made over the phone or in an email, especially overseas. Wiring money is like giving cash — once you send it, you can’t get it back.
- Don’t fill in the blanks. If the caller says, “It’s your granddaughter,” respond with “Which one?” Most likely, the perpetrator will then hang up.
- Be mum on account numbers. Never provide your bank or credit card account numbers to any caller — regardless of the reason or who they say they are.
- Be suspicious of all requests for money wires.
Anyone with questions for the Chief’s Column may submit them by mail to the Grafton Police Department, 28 Providence Road, Grafton, MA 01519. You may also email your questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include an appropriate subject line, as I do not open suspicious email for obvious reasons.
Normand A. Crepeau, Jr.
Chief of Police