While summer travel plans are down 15 percent this year when compared to 2019, AAA still forecasts Americans will take a combined total of 700 million trips this summer. This means scammers will be in full force. One common scam which takes place during summer months is the “Grandparent Scam”. While the scam has been around for years, scammers may add a pandemic twist, using isolation and fear tactics to their advantage. BBB advises consumers to be on the lookout for scammers preying on senior citizens by posing as grandchildren in need of emergency funds.
How the scam works: Typically, the victim receives a frantic phone call from a scammer posing as a grandchild or other family member. The “grandchild” explains that he or she is stuck overseas or out of town and needs help. They often claim they are in the hospital or in jail and are in desperate need of money to pay the bill or for attorney’s fees. The “grandchild” pleads not to tell his or her parents and asks that they wire thousands of dollars to help them out of their situation. In 2019 alone, this type of imposter scam cost consumers more than $667 million in losses according to the Federal Trade Commission. Unfortunately, during this pandemic, their fraud strategies can be more compelling on your heart strings.
“As there will be fewer traveling this year, we anticipate scammers being more aggressive with this type of scam,” Mechele Agbayani Mills, President and CEO of BBB Serving Central East Texas said. “Please educate yourselves and your families.”
BBB offers the following tips to help people avoid the grandparent scam:
■ Stay calm. Emergency scams rely 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.
■ Communicate. During the time of this pandemic, families should share travel plans before leaving the state or country, especially with those that are at high risk and remain self-isolated. Parents are encouraged to let extended family members know when their child is traveling.
■ 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 their middle name or the color of your vehicle. Your family might consider developing a secret code or password that can be used to verify a true emergency.
■ Never send money via unconventional methods. 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. Scammers also commonly use payment via prepaid card or gift cards.
■ Share information. Grandchildren should provide cell phone numbers and email addresses of friends they are traveling with in the case of an emergency. Family members should remind the family to be cautious when sharing details about travel plans on social media. If you do fall victim to the “Grandparent Scam”, report the incident immediately to BBB Scam Tracker and local police.