| Amid the global health crisis, the FBI and local police are investigating an uptick in grandparent scams. In New Jersey and New York alone, roughly 100 victims have lost about $1 million in recent months, an official says.
The scams often begin when an older person is contacted by a criminal who poses as a panicked grandchild in need of thousands of dollars quickly for an emergency such as a hospital bill or bail money, says the FBI's Greg Takacs, an assistant special agent in charge in the bureau's Newark, New Jersey office.
"It's just so disgusting,” he says, as these bad actors are preying on older folks and exploiting the love and sense of altruism they have for their family members.
The scams are fast-moving extortions with various pretexts. A crook may pretend to be an attorney or bail bondsman, Takacs says. And the relative said to need big bucks is not always a “grandchild;” it could be a “niece” or “nephew.”
Since 2015, some 91,585 people have been victims of impostor scammers who purport to be family members or friends, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) says.
Crooks pull at victims’ heartstrings
"In these days of coronavirus concerns, their lies can be particularly compelling,” FTC attorney Lisa Weintraub Schifferle warns. “They pull at your heartstrings so they can trick you into sending money before you realize it's a scam,” she says. Resist the urge to act immediately, she adds, “no matter how dramatic the story is."
Takacs, a lawyer with the FBI for more than 23 years, says his own mother-in-law was telephoned by a grandparent scammer before Memorial Day. The scammer masqueraded as the FBI official's son, alleging he was in trouble in an out-of-state locale where the family vacations. The grandmother did not take the bait, instructing the “grandson” to call his parents.
That ruse bears out what Takacs says often happens before a target is contacted. Bad actors scour Facebook and other information sources online to figure out family relationships and concoct a phony story, he says.