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Grandparent scam gets a 2011 update

The latest victims are not related and live in different communities, so the problem is not just a localized one.

By MSN Money Partner Aug 11, 2011 9:49AM

This post comes from Jeanine Skowronskiat partner site MainStreet.


Concerned relatives beware. The Better Business Bureau issued a red alert late last week warning consumers that scammers have updated one of their old favorites: the grandparent scam.


As previously reported, scammers have been known to target seniors by calling and posing as a grandchild in distress. They'll typically bait the intended victim by saying "this is your favorite grandchild" or asking "do you know who this is?" Unwitting seniors fill in the blanks by providing the name of a relative who sounds most like the person on the other end of the line.


But the scam's subsequent publicity has led fraudsters to make a few minor adjustments to their pitch. Most notably, they are now providing their intended victims with detailed information regarding family members.


"They lace their conversation with correct references by name to other family members, increasing their credibility," the BBB said in a press release. "One caller even knew that the real person being impersonated had a twin who was born two minutes later."


According to the BBB, fraudsters are also targeting relatives of the identity they are assuming, not just seniors, and the most recent reports of the scam include requests that money be wired to Mexico. In its previous incarnation, the phony relatives had gotten in a car accident in Canada, asking for some cash to get out of trouble. Now, the back story is that they are being detained in a Mexican prison, with the incarceration serving as an excuse to not contact additional relatives to confirm the whereabouts of whoever the scammer is purporting to be.


The BBB said law enforcement officials have not discovered how these scammers obtain phone numbers and personal information about their victims. They also said the latest victims are not related and live in different communities, so the problem is not just a localized one. Post continues after video.

Anyone who believes they have fallen victim to this scam recently is being urged to file a complaint as part of an ongoing investigation with the BBB at (609) 588-0808 or by emailing They should also file a complaint with the FBI office in their region.


The BBB also advises anyone contacted by a distressed relative to verify his or her whereabouts before wiring money. As an overall precaution, the organization urges consumers to limit the amount of information they share on social networks and refrain from accepting friend requests from people they don't know.


Additionally, families may want to come up with a code word that can be used if they do find themselves needing to reach out over the phone in an emergency.


Tweaking an old scam is a common trick among fraudsters.


"Thieves are very crafty these days," identity theft risk management specialist Denise Richardson told MainStreet last year. "They keep updating old scams with new twists."


Concerned seniors can find out what other scams thieves are known to try against them in this MainStreet roundup.


More on MainStreet and MSN Money:

Aug 11, 2011 2:40PM

My sister in-law just got one of these phone calls yesterday....supposedly her grandson was in spain and was hurt in an auto accident.....please send me $2000 via western union.....

Her reply was that her grandson could not be in spain because he doesn't have a passport....caller hung up....

Aug 11, 2011 4:56PM
My grandparent also go one of these calls about my brother being in jail and needing money.  My grandparents said well if your in jail for something you need to stay there.  The caller hung up!
Aug 11, 2011 5:30PM
In the 1600s in England, pickpocketing was so prevalent, that the govt. instituted the death penalty for it. Maybe it's time to bring it back for all these scammers. Just sayin'....
Aug 11, 2011 3:39PM
Unfortunately my grandparents received one of these calls a few months ago and sent $3000 to who knows where. The caller used the “Your grandson, you know, the one that just moved, is in prison in Spain and needs $3000 to get help. You cant tell anyone because he is embarrassed” ordeal. It is pathetic that thieves have so little shame that they will prey on the elderly.
Aug 11, 2011 4:49PM
Dicazi, the elderly are often hard of hearing and also tend to worry easily - for example, become panicky if someone is late to an appointment, even, let alone if a call said a grandchild was in trouble. They might not connect the dots or just be convinced something has to be done NOW or bad things will happen.  And if they love the person but haven't seen them in a while, they might not know their current circumstances, or not remember instantly when pressured. Don't judge by your own mental capabilities.  Just warn any elderly relatives to check with someone else before they do anything.
Aug 11, 2011 5:41PM
I had an asian woman phone me the other night wanting to confirm my banking details from B of A. Supposedly. She had my full name, and obviously phone number. She wanted my address, mothers maiden name, and later my social security number 'for account confirmation'. She was really persistent. I phone sexed her until she hung up. Hasn't called back since, but it wasn't obvious that she was a scammer until she asked for my mothers maiden name - I don't have one. She was pretty good - very professional.
Aug 11, 2011 4:58PM
Probably the same @$$holes that are doing the Craigslist scams with the fraud checks etc. I am surprised people these days even have money to give Family much less scammers anything anyway! They probably have a way to weed out the rich from the poor, who knows.
Aug 11, 2011 6:50PM
Take care of your elders. Take care of your elders. Take care of your elders. It should be our society's norm, but it isn't anymore. Shame shame.
Aug 11, 2011 5:00PM
these scammers don't enough jail time and have no problem with continueing to scam people.
Aug 11, 2011 6:13PM
i suggest throwing back some personal information that comes with requirements. something like, "bobby, its been so long since i've seen you. when was the last time again?" and if theyre not claiming to be in a mexican prison say something like "its been so long since i've seen you, i'd love to help, but i want to see your face first. send me a picture from that fancy phone your mom got you for your birthday. When is that again?"
its so easy to scare these guys off but many elderly people arent up to date on technology and young life in general, armed with a few good questions it would be easy to fend these folks off.
Gullibility should also be a topic of conversation between adult children and their elderly parents. Their families should be helping them grasp these things, not shockingly though, people are too disconnected from their loved ones to care until its too late.

Aug 11, 2011 8:08PM
This also happened to my mom not so long ago.  She was told stories from her other elderly friends of this happening to friends of theirs and she still fell for it. The catch was that the caller had enough information about her nephew to convince her that it really was him. She couldn't get a hold of her sister to confirm and the urgency of the need overwhelmed her to react quickly.  If she would have contacted me before sending out the money I would have known that this sounded too fishy to be true. We reported the crime to the police and went back to the wire service and they also gave us a number to report but we know nothing will be done.  It's a rough lesson learned on the elderly with fixed incomes.  It really saddened me and made her feel extremely helpless. I hope that everyone could spread the news around to relatives and friends of the elderly to help protect them.
Aug 11, 2011 5:24PM
This happened to my dad several months ago.Caller saying he was my nephew and was in jail in canada on drug charges.They needed so much $ via western union.Dad fell for it but luckily western union stopped the transaction so dad was out very little $.
Latest scam here, full page advertisements in the local paper from gold buyers. They only pay twenty five percent of the actual value of the gold. This scam may be legal, but something should be done about, these crooks scamming old people out of there gold.
Aug 12, 2011 1:21PM
Pretty easy to get lots of personal information from Facebook, etc. Not much is private these days.
Aug 11, 2011 7:28PM
This happened to my mother-in-law...almo​​st.He said he was my son and he was in trouble.Anybody that knows my son would know he would not be in the trouble this person described.But my son at that time was in Ft.Benning GA at boot camp!!! But for awhile she almost believed that she was talking to my son til she started asking questions,then they hung up.Pretty sick to scam elderly people,or anybody for that matter.He did sound like my son though.
Aug 11, 2011 6:52PM
This happened to my mom and these people are very skilled at scamming. My mom knows people who had been scammed and yet she started to believe them.  The call was id'd from Canada but that was on the phone in the livingroom and she was making breakfast. They said it was a mexican jail.  He said that he was her grandson and she thought he said son but she didn't think he sounded like my brother.  My mom then said are you ___ (my son) and he said yes.  She said that the more the guy talked the more he sounded like my son.  Even though she know that my son doesn't go with buddies to Mexico, doesn't ever have $4500 in his bank that he could pay back, isn't a big drinker my mom felt like she should help.  They tug on your heartstrings, thankfully when she got off the phone with them she called her police dept and they said to call me.  The scammers got his name from her by saying it was her grandson and she only has one.  I told her she should throw out a fake name next time and say that she won't support this drinking habit then hang up.,
Aug 11, 2011 6:34PM
Families really need to educate their elderly parents, the responsibility falls on them. I would NEVER give up $$ to ANYone asking me to send via Western Union, esp. to a foreign country or Canada. I'm not quite "elderly" yet, but I can see why it would work on some, esp. hard of hearing. I too would ask questions to try to PROVE identity but I love the person who responded by saying if they're in jail, they can stay there. Authorities really need to crack down on these scammers.
Aug 11, 2011 6:35PM
This happened to my mother, thankfully she was aware of the scam and did not fall for it!  She does not have a computer and my nephew was not on facebook yet...we have no idea how they got his name.
Aug 11, 2011 8:44PM
This also happened to my mother, my son's grandma while he was stationed at Camp Pendleton.   the guy on the phone was so desperate and sounded so convincing, she wired $3,000.00 right away.  What a horrible thing to do to an 87 year old grandma.
Aug 11, 2011 7:14PM

Even if one of these scuzzballs gets caught, all they'll get is a slap on the wrist. This type of crime is not taken seriously by law enforcement and no effort is usually made to try and catch the perpetrators because there was no physical violence involved.  I hope there's a special place in h*ll for them.

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