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“Grandkids” Tap Grandparents for Fast Cash

The classic “grandparent scam” is back—with a vengeance.

Who could refuse a beloved grandchild who’s in trouble?

You know the answer, so you need to be aware of telephone calls from “grandchildren” asking for money. Yes, the classic “grandparent scam” is back—with a vengeance.

In recent weeks, police across the country have reported an upsurge in reports of callers who phone older Americans, posing as their grandchildren in need of fast cash and urging their victims to send them money via a money order or through a wire service like Western Union or MoneyGram.

How do they get away with it?

Usually, the phone call starts something like this: “Hi, Grandma, is that you?” or “Hi, Grandpop, it’s me—your favorite granddaughter!”

“What happens is that the senior may be momentarily confused or not recognize the voice because of hearing loss, and respond with something like, ‘Mary is that you?’ Once they relate to a name, they’re pretty much hooked,” explains Detective Carl Filsinger of the Weston, Conn., police department. In just two weeks, his department—which serves a town of only 10,000 people—received at least six reports of these phone calls. And since many targets don’t report these crimes, Filsinger says the number of incidents is probably higher.

One Weston grandmother was about to purchase a $2,400 money order at Wal-Mart—for her “grandchild”—but a store employee alerted her to the possibility of a scam, says Filsinger.

A common crisis summoned up by callers: They say they’ve been jailed in Canada and ask for bail money to be wired to that country; that ploy recently duped one Tulsa, Okla., area grandparent out of $5,500. But recent requests are also for money to pay for car trouble, tuition, textbooks or other “emergency” expenses.

“The callers stress they need the money fast, and usually want a money order or MoneyGram rather than a personal check,” says Filsinger. The scammer can easily get the cash, often without showing identification.

To protect yourself from these phony phone calls:

  • Don’t fill in the blanks. If the caller says, “It’s your granddaughter,” respond with “Which one?” Most likely, the perpetrator will then hang up, says the Washington state Attorney General’s Office, which has posted an advisory on its web site.
  • Verify the caller. Always confirm your grandchild’s identity by saying you will return the call at his or her home or on his cellphone (but don’t ask the caller for it). If you don’t have your grandchildren’s phone numbers, contact a trusted family member for them.
  • Be mum on account numbers. Never provide your bank or credit card account numbers to any caller—regardless of the reason.
  • Be suspicious of requests for money wires.
  • So if your “grandchild” calls requesting money, contact your local police department or state attorney general’s office.