Since its inception, New York City been a place where a seemingly endless array of scams are perpetrated on the unsuspecting public—the "you broke my glasses" routine, the pigeon drop—and some of the most vulnerable marks continue to be the elderly, which is why there's a scam JUST for them: The "Grandparent Scam" where the scammer poses as a grandchild/niece/nephew in danger and in need of money. Now, NY Attorney General Eric Schneiderman wants grandchildren to make sure their elders don't get duped.
C. Steven Baker, director of the Midwest division of the Federal Trade Commission told us earlier this year that the scam started in Montreal: Criminals would scan obituaries and gather details about deceased individuals and their survivors—the widows/widowers, plus the names of the grandchildren. Then they'd call a grandparent and either pose as their grandchildren or their grandchildren's friend, saying there was an accident and they needed money. And the grandparents would fall for it.
Schneiderman sent a letter to the presidents and deans of 86 SUNY and CUNY schools and an open letter to the administration of New York’s private institutions, so they can warn students that the "Grandparent Scam" is about to hit a peak during the holiday break and offer advice (and a brochure) about how to avoid it. Like:
- Be suspicious of anyone who calls unexpectedly asking you to wire money.
- Verify any supposed emergency, by calling friends and family, before wiring money.
- Develop a secret code or "password" with family members that can be used to verify a true emergency.
- Limit personal information, such as vacation plans, shared on social media sites.
Now, with everyone oversharing what they're doing, criminals can hone their technique even more. And this scam even catches victims who aren't grandparents—the other variation is "I've Kidnapped Your Relative". In 2012, police in Boca Raton, Florida drafted a primer to warn residents about these calls, mostly originating from Puerto Rico, and a Sun-Sentinel columnist wrote about a relative's ordeal, "For 45 frantic minutes last week, a family member thought I was on the brink of death after believing I had been in a car accident with a man who then beat me to a bloody pulp." It's been reported in NJ last year and in Connecticut this year.
If you or someone you know falls for the scam, file a report with IC3, which is run by the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center. On the backend, IC3 will try to marry the complaints and a $1,00 fraud could be linked to many others, which then might add up to the hundreds of thousands.
Here's the letter from AG Schneiderman:
November 18, 2014
With the holidays approaching and winter vacation around the corner, I am writing to make you aware of an increasingly prevalent phone scam and to ask for your help with a new initiative my office has undertaken to combat it. My regional offices across the state have reported a rise in the so-called “grandparent scam.” The scam involves a call to a senior citizen in which the caller impersonates a grandchild claiming to be in serious trouble. The caller then asks the unsuspecting grandparent to send money. Victims of these phone scams have lost almost $450,000 over the last several months.
The grandparent scam tends to increase in frequency during school breaks, like the upcoming December/January vacation, when it is especially believable that a grandchild would be traveling. Often, the scammer will pose as a grandchild in college and tell the grandparent that they are in legal trouble or even physical danger. They will ask the unsuspecting grandparent to wire money immediately and, as a means of avoiding detection, ask the victim not to tell other family members about the situation. For example, a caller might say: “I’m in Canada and I’m trying to get home but my car broke down and I need money right away to get it fixed.” Or s/he may claim to have been mugged, to have been in a car accident or to need money for bail or customs fees to get back into the United States from another country. It is despicable that these scammers abuse the love that grandparents have for their grandchildren to dupe them into thinking they are helping a family member.
Last month, to help prevent unsuspecting seniors from being victimized by this all-too-common scam, my office launched a program titled “Grandkids Against the Grandparent Scam.” This intergenerational program represents an innovative approach to getting our older adults the information they need to avoid becoming victims. The initiative provides students with specifics about how the scam works and an informational brochure that they are then encouraged to share with their parents and grandparents.
My hope is that you can help us make your students and their families aware of the scam. Please access the brochure here and distribute it to as many students as possible. For anyone interested, our statewide elder abuse coordinator, Gary Brown, would also be happy to speak directly to your students about the scam and how they can best protect their families.
For more information or if you have questions about the program and how you can help, please contact Gary Brown at 914-422-8755 or email@example.com.
Eric T. Schneiderman