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Grandparent scam among cons targeting seniors

By KEVIN KELLEY
WESTLAKE

“Hi, grandma!”

Those are words many grandparents love to hear. But they are also the words con artists use to bilk thousands of dollars from seniors who believe they’re helping a relative in trouble.

Here’s how it works: A grandparent receives a call from someone posing as a grandchild. The caller claims to be in trouble – perhaps because he or she has been in an accident or has been arrested and needs bail money. Often the grandchild claims to be out of the country. The grandparent is asked to send money immediately using a prepaid money card or wire transfer.

If money is sent, the scammer will call again to claim more money is needed. Of course, the grandparent ultimately discovers the grandchild was never in trouble or even away from home.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine is warning families to beware of phone scams targeting grandparents. “Scammers believe grandparents are easy targets because of the special relationship many have with their grandchildren,” DeWine said in a statement earlier this month for National Grandparent’s Day.

DeWine’s office suggests seniors who receive such a call ask the caller a question only a family member would know the answer.

The grandparent scam was among the cons listed by Pam Anson, community outreach coordinator with the Better Business Bureau’s Cleveland office, during a talk Sept. 13 at the Gardens at Westlake Senior Living facility.

“These scammers will feed off our emotions to try to get us to give up our money,” Anson warned.

One woman told the gathering that a caller attempted to obtain $2,800 from her using the scam. She astutely told the caller he did not sound like her grandson.

“That’s because I broke my nose,” the caller replied.

The con artists are often prepared for initial skepticism, Anson said.

“Sometimes they’ll even put people pretending to be doctors or lawyers or police officers on the phone to make the story sound more legitimate,” Anson said. “The big red flag is when they say ‘Don’t tell mom and dad.””

Persons receiving such a call should independently contact the relative or parent of the relative the scam artist is claiming before sending funds, Anson said. She also suggested grandparents and grandchildren have a code word they use at the start of phone conversations.

Another common scam is a caller claiming to be with the IRS demanding immediate payment of overdue taxes or fines, with threats of arrest typically made, Anson said.

“The IRS will never call you on the phone,” Anson said. “They will always send you a letter first.”

Regulations were recently changed to allow debt collection companies call persons on behalf of the IRS, Anson said, but those calls would still be preceded by an IRS letter.

In the tech support scam, or Microsoft scam, a caller claiming to be with technical support from Microsoft says a virus has been detected on your computer. They ask for money and an IP address to gain remote access to a person’s computer, Anson said. This allows the scammer to place malware on the computer, enabling the scammer access to sensitive personal information stored on the device, she said.

Letters or calls congratulating someone for winning a sweepstakes or cruise are usually scams, Anson said. The scammers will ask for money, or bank account information to obtain the money, to pay for taxes and fees related to the prize.

“You never want to pay money to win a free prize, and you never want to pay money for a contest you didn’t enter,” Anson said.

Sometimes the scammer will send a check, but some time may elapse before the bank realizes the check is fake, she explained. The bank then often charges the victim a fee for depositing a phony check.

“If something sounds too good to be true,” Anson said, “it usually is.”

Never be afraid to hang up on someone, Anson said. She said consumers may report such calls to the BBB, which tracks scams and forwards information to law enforcement.

Sapt. Guy Turner of the Westlake Police Department advises residents to inform his department of such calls so they may be aware of any patterns. Turner, who said he recently received two phony IRS calls himself, said local police have little chance of arresting the scammers, as many operate out of Canada or the Caribbean. But Turner said police can warn the community to be alert for such scams.

 

 

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