BBB warns about recurring scam targeting grandparents


RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCT) – The Better Business Bureau serving Eastern North Carolina is warning consumers of all ages on how grandparents are the specific target of a common scam.

It’s commonly known as the “grandparent” or “emergency” scam.

Here’s how the scam works: You receive a call from someone claiming to be your grandchild. The caller often claims to have gotten into a predicament in a different state or country, and asks you to wire money to him or her to post bail or pay for damages. The money ultimately goes to a scam artist and you are out possibly thousands of dollars. BBB warns that the scam artist may use social media to lace the conversation with correct references to other family members, increasing credibility.

“This con is a popular choice for scammers to use because they have been able to use this scam to take advantage of seniors for years,” said Mallory Wojciechowski, president and CEO of BBB serving Eastern NC. “It is important for all seniors to be aware of this con and to understand that different versions of the scam, which substitute grandchildren for friends or extended family, are still going around.”

BBB serving Eastern NC offers the following tips to help people avoid the grandparent scam:

  • Know the red flags. Typically, the grandparent receives a frantic phone call from a scammer posing as a grandchild. The “grandchild” explains that he or she is in some kind of trouble and needs help. The “grandchild” pleads to the grandparents not to tell his or her parents and asks that they wire thousands of dollars for reasons such as posting bail, repairing a car, covering lawyer’s fees or even paying hospital bills.
  • Stay calm. Emergency scams count on an emotional reaction. It’s important to resist the pressure to act quickly or react to the caller’s distress. Tell them you’ll call back and ask for a number; then contact your grandchild or another family member to determine whether or not the call is legitimate, and confirm the whereabouts of the grandchild.
  • Ask a personal question, but don’t disclose too much information. If a caller says “It’s me, Grandma!” don’t respond with a name, but instead let the caller explain who he or she is. One easy way to confirm their identity is to ask a simple question that the grandchild would know such as what school he or she goes to or their middle name. Your family might consider developing a secret code or password that can be used to verify a true emergency.
  • Do not wire money. Wiring money is like giving cash-once you send it, you can’t get it back. If you are asked to wire money based on a request made over the phone, especially to locations overseas, consider it a serious red flag. Always make certain of the recipient’s identity before using a wire service or pre-paid debit cards.
  • Communicate. Students should share travel plans with family members before leaving the state or country. Parents are encouraged to let extended family members know when their child is traveling.
  • Share information. Students should provide cell phone numbers and email addresses of friends they are traveling with in the case of an emergency. Family members should remind students to be cautious when sharing details about travel plans on social media.

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