We love to hear from our family, but rarely do the grandchildren call us. So I was a bit surprised when I answered the phone to hear, “Hi, Grandma. I have been in an accident. I need some help with cash to get home.”
The caller sort of sounded like my grandson, but I usually just talk with his father.
“Hi,” I said hesitantly and asked, “Who is this calling?”
“Wrong name, Johnny. Good-bye.”
Later, I called my son and asked to speak with my grandson, “I need to be able to recognize his voice over the phone,” I explained the situation before chatting with the teen.
I wondered, “How do people get tricked by such calls?”
“Many would answer, ‘Hi, Johnny. How are you?’ and the caller has a grandchild’s name,” my friend explained.
I researched fake calls to grandparents on the Internet. I learned that in 2018, the Federal Trade Commission reported that folks 70 and older sent an average of $9,000 to fraudulent callers. That is significantly more than the average of $2,000 sent by younger people responding to imposter calls. Imposters trick them by saying, “the IRS wants back taxes paid with a gift card or a wire transfer.”
Remember, the IRS never operates that way.
Forwarned, my husband had a ready response when another imposter called. “Hi Grandpa. I need some cash. Can you wire it to me? Don’t tell Mom and Dad, please.”
Grandpa grinned and looked across the room at me. He had his own questions.
“How old are you?”
“24.” (We have no grandsons who are 24.)
“How old do you think I am?” he asked.
“How about 27? And if I am 27, I can’t have a grandson who is 24.”
The caller hung up.
That caller obviously had not trolled my social media for information before calling. Some scam artists do and have a lot of information before they pose as a grandchild in trouble.
After asking, “Are you ok? Were you hurt?” some grandparents observe, “It does not sound like you.” Of course the imposter has an explanation. “I broke my nose in the accident,” or “I have been crying.”
Ask for more information, “Where are you calling from? What are you doing there?”
Give yourself time to think before sending money, “Give me your number. I will see what I can do and call back.”
If the caller says, “I have been arrested and need money for bail.” Do not simply use the number the caller gives you. Do not believe the ‘officer’ who takes the phone and validates the need for bail money. Get the name of the town and google information for the local police phone number.
Before sending money, no matter how desperate the caller sounded, call the parents or anyone else who would know whether the grandchild is traveling, at school or at home.
Once cash is wired, more pleas for cash will likely follow. Sometimes the caller wants a gift card.
Big box retailers like Walmart or Target direct requests for expensive gift cards to the office. There trained clerks should ask, “Did you receive a call from a family member who just had an acccident, was arrested or had some other crisis? This is often a scam to get your money.”
If you send funds using Western Union and before realizing it’s a scam, the transaction may be stopped by contacting the Western Union Fraud hotline at 1-800-448-1492.
Avoid being scammed, and call your real grandchild and have a real conversation with them.