Don’t worry grandma: Hardcore take on same scam

By Robb Hicken/ BBB’s chief storyteller

“Your son was talking on his cellphone and ran into my brother’s BMW at the gas station” the deep-throated heavy-accented voice growls. “So, I’ve taken him hostage.”

Shocked by the 6 a.m. call, Robert McCloud, of Nampa, says all he could think of was where was his son, when did he talk to him last, why was he up so early, and how could he have crashed into someone with a heavy East Coast accent. The caller, who claimed to be a drug dealer, says he wants no police involved.

“He said, ‘Your son was on the phone, and we thought he was calling the police, so we abducted him and are holding him in the house until you pay up,’” McCloud says. “And, this guys says, ‘You better send me $400 to fix the car, if you don’t want your son hurt.’”military quote

Then the red flags went off and McCloud hanged up the phone. He called his son, who was safe.

This escalation in the script means the scammers are not getting through to as many grandparents. BBBs across the United States say the grandparent scam has reached an alarming success rate scammers that con artists are using it against younger victims. Against all age groups it rose to 73,281 in 2011, up 22 percent from a year earlier, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

It also means the public has to elevate its guard to all phone calls.

Typically, well-meaning grandparents are bluffed into helping a grandchild as part of the so-called “Grandparent Scam.” Every year grandparents across the country are conned into sending thousands of dollars to rescue their distressed kids.

BBB says the kidnapping/hostage plot twist is more unnerving compared to traditional pleas for aid. In the past, vacationing grandchildren were robbed, in crashes, arrested for drugs, helping injured friends, or simply lost a wallet/passport. Imposters are targeting military families asking for “emergency military” money, according to the FBI.

The imposter typically explains he/she was traveling in Canada or Mexico and was arrested or involved in an auto accident and needed grandma/grandpa to wire money for bail, train/air fare or to pay for damages — usually a couple thousand dollars.

BBB says:

  • Remain calm and resist the pressure to act quickly.
  • Don’t give any information until you’re certain it is your grandchild.
  • If a caller says, “It’s me, grandma!” don’t respond with a name, but instead let the caller say who he or she is.
  • Confirm their identity by asking a simple question only your grandchild would know.

FTC says the culprits are difficult to find in part because they often work abroad, in countries like Canada, Spain, Mexico and Nigeria.

McCloud says when you first get the call the adrenaline is pumping. “You feel fear for your loved ones, and then, afterward, you get angry. I can understand, now, how older people can be confused by a call like that.”

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