art1mar2013Dozens of scams that target the elderly, and new ones emerge every day, costing the elderly millions of dollars in funds and emotional distress.  Con artists are good at what is called the “personality sell.”  This means they appear friendly, sympathetic, honest and willing to listen to and spend time with their targets. 

Sometimes they use fear tactics, such as convincing older homeowners that their roof will collapse if the contract to fix it is not signed immediately. Another fear tactic is perfected in the Granny Scam.  In this scam a telephone call is received late in the night.  The caller’s voice is desperate, sounding scared and sometimes sobbing. He is panicked and begging for help.  The caller represents himself as a grandchild claiming to be in a jail some place often a foreign country.  The grandchild says he is being held for drunken driving, or a car accident and is in need of money that must be wired immediately so that he can post bail or be required to remain in jail for a sustained period of time.  Of course, the grandmother will do all she can to help her grandson.

The caller only calls the victim “Grandma” and relies on the victim to supply the name of the grandchild.  The victim responds, “Bobby,” and the scam continues. As soon as the name is known the voice of the alleged grandchild is only heard in the background. Sometime menacing sounds are heard followed by screams from the child. It is difficult to think critically when you believe a loved one is being harmed.  Requests vary from a few thousand dollars to as much as $90,000, always requested to be send via wire. Once the amount is agreed to the child’s voice is heard to say, “Don’t tell mom!”

Warning Signs

This scam targets good hearted people (grandparents) who are motivated by a desire to help others in need.  The scammer gives just enough information about a family member to be able to impersonate one of them during a brief phone call to a grandmother.  The scheme hinges on the grandparent being eager to help and not having enough close contact with the grandchild to be familiar with the child’s voice.

These con artists use a variety of means to initiate contact.  Most often it is via telephone but others have used e-mails, text messages, and Facebook.  If you receive such a message we suggest the following:

  1. Obtain as much information as possible from the caller.
  2. Contact the grandchild’s parent to verify the information.
  3. Ask the “relative” (scammer) a personal question, such as a pet’s name.
  4. Be suspicious and examine requests for money with great scrutiny.
  5. Get expert help immediately.  Call Cadfael at (763) 694-6086. 

--Cadfael.