In 1978, Congress passed legislation proclaiming the first Sunday after Labor Day National Grandparents Day. For those keeping score at home, that was the day before yesterday. (Note to grandchildren reading this: It’s never too late to call.)
One stated purpose of this holiday was “to help children become aware of the strength, information, and guidance older people can offer.”
Like Elizabeth Williams.
Williams is a grandmother 43 times over and offers some sage guidance on how to avoid senior scams: Be skeptical and always ask questions.
Case in point, the 83-year-old Placida resident said she got a phone call from someone identifying himself as her grandson, by name. Supposedly, while traveling, he’d been involved in a car accident and broken his nose so he didn’t sound like himself. He needed money and begged Grandma not to tell anyone.
Williams told me while she would do anything for her grandchildren, she was nonetheless suspicious. Then she remembered creating identity security questions while opening an online bank account. So she asked her grandson the name of his dog.
Her “grandson” hung up. Scam averted.
“This is another type of fraud that preys on the elderly, but this time the con artist uses the love for their grandchildren as the bait,” explains the Florida Department of Financial Services. “The grandparent scam has been around a few years, but the perpetrators have become tech-savvy. Thanks to the internet and social media, con artists are able to uncover personal information about their target, which makes the masquerades more believable.”
“For example, the actual grandson may mention on his social networking site that he’s a photographer who often travels to Mexico,” explains the FBI. “When contacting the grandparents, the phony grandson will say he’s calling from Mexico, where someone stole his camera equipment and passport.”
“Scammers usually claim to be in a desperate situation, such as being involved in a car accident or needing money to get out of a legal mess,” explains the AARP Fraud Watch Network. “The caller poses as your grandchild, or a law enforcement officer or attorney calling on your grandchild’s behalf — whatever it takes to sound convincing.”
But even without any personal information, scammers may just identify themselves as “your favorite grandson,” waiting for the victim to say a name, at which point the scammer has his new identity. Often calls are made in the middle of the night, to further confuse victims.
If you’re faced with a possible impostor emergency scam, follow what Williams did: Resist the urge to act immediately, regardless of the severity of the situation. Verify the caller’s identity by asking personal questions a stranger can’t answer. For further confirmation, contact a family member to verify the emergency.
However, it’s important to understand this fake emergency scam isn’t limited to grandparents.
The Federal Trade Commission cautions that fraudsters can pose as any relative or friend, calling or sending messages requesting cash to help pay a hospital bill, post bail, or get through customs, for example.
“Scammers are banking on your love and concern to outweigh your skepticism,” warns the FTC. “It’s surprisingly easy for a scam artist to impersonate someone. Scammers also could hack into the email account of someone you know.”
The ultimate flashing red light that should have you slamming the brakes? Instructions to wire money or pay with a reloadable debit card.
Finally, to help avoid becoming caught up in this imposter scam, limit the amount of posted personal information on social media sites like Facebook, especially upcoming travel plans.
Happy belated Grandparents Day!
David Morris is the Sun’s consumer advocate. Contact him c/o the Sun, 23170 Harborview Road, Charlotte Harbor, FL 33980, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave a message at 941-206-1114.^p