Attorney Patrick Morrisey urges West Virginians to be on guard for the so-called “Grandparent Scam,” in which a person calls and pretends to be a grandchild who needs money for bail, medical treatment or other emergency.
“This scam originally popped up last fall and is making its way back into the region this summer,” Morrisey said. “Scammers take advantage of the fact that many people go on vacation during the summer and that teenagers and young adults may be away from home for long periods of time for summer jobs. They then prey on older family members and try to bilk them for money.”
The scam typically begins with a frantic phone call from someone posing as a grandchild who says he or she is in trouble. In some cases, the caller hands the phone to someone else who says he is an attorney or health care professional trying to help the “family member,” but needs to have money transferred over immediately to cover legal, medical or other costs. Sometimes the scammers call twice in a short time—first as the grandchild in distress and then either as a law enforcement officer, medical provider or family friend. Sometimes the second caller says the amount quoted earlier was too low and asks for more money.
“These scams prey on the love elderly West Virginians have for their family, and our willingness to do anything we can to help a loved one in distress,” Morrisey said. “But people need to remember that wiring money is the same as sending cash, and consumers have very little protections if they wire money to an individual. Typically you cannot reverse the transaction once it is made, nor can you trace the money or recover it from a con artist.”
To avoid being scammed, Morrisey recommended that consumers take the following precautions:
-Stay calm and don’t act out of a sense of urgency.
-Get contact information from the caller, including a name and a way to call him or her back.
-Call the typical number for the loved one who is supposedly in trouble to see if he or she answers; call other family members to find out where he or she is.
-Never give bank routing numbers or credit card numbers to someone calling you over the phone or reaching out to you via email.
-Be skeptical of anyone who calls and asks you to either wire transfer money or use a pre-paid debit card, regardless of whether it is for a supposed overdue bill or family emergency.
Do not wire money unless you have verified with a third party that the child really is in trouble. Call the hospital or jail using a number you located yourself to verify your loved one’s status.
“The Internet is an amazing resource, but it also provides would-be scammers with a wealth of information about people, including phone numbers, family members and relationships,” Morrisey said. “Never post on any social media site when you or your loved ones will be on vacation, and always be suspicious if a grandchild calls from a far location and doesn’t identify themselves by name or uses the wrong name for you, such as grandma instead of “granny” or “mamaw.’”
Morrisey said scammers sometimes randomly dial people until they reach a senior citizen and then let the senior “fill in the blanks” by voluntarily saying the grandchild’s name.
“It is unfortunate that we live in a time when scammers will stop at nothing to try to take advantage of others, but we all can protect ourselves by being savvy to the tricks they use,” Morrisey said.
If you believe you have been scammed in this way, call the West Virginia Attorney General’s Office Consumer Protection Division at 800-368-8808 and file a report. You also should contact the money transfer company immediately to report the fraud and file a complaint. You can reach the complaint department of MoneyGram at 1-800-MONEYGRAM (1-800-666-3947) or Western Union at 1-800-448-1492.
Consumers also should file a complaint with their local police department and report the scam to the Federal Trade Commission at www.ftc.gov