Grandparents Beware: This Scam Is for You

grandchild and grandparent hand and computer - grandparent scamSandra Feldman was sure it was her grandson, Graham, on the phone. He said he was in Spain. And he was in trouble.

It was 9 a.m. and Feldman, 75, who lives in Chicago, knew her grandson should be at school in Colorado. But he said he'd jumped on a flight with a friend who'd won plane tickets. Trouble started when they rented a car with some fellow students. Police pulled them over and found marijuana in the car and now Graham was in jail. He needed $2,800 cash for an attorney from the American Embassy.

Of course, Feldman said, she'd send the money. That's when someone from the Embassy got on and told her where to send the money, and where to call with the confirmation number.

"They told me just to say that I was sending 'spending money' if anyone from Western Union asked what it was for," said Feldman.Turns out, her grandson had been at school the whole time, studying for a test. Feldman, like grandparents nationwide, was targeted by the "Grandparent Scam." The Montana Attorney General's office just sent out a warning about the scheme.

Typically, callers just say something like "This is your favorite grandson." Sometimes they say they were in a car accident, or they need money for bail. They ask the grandparents to keep it a secret.

Feldman says she really believed it because he said his name, and called her "Nana." She doesn't know how they got her grandson's name and her number.

Although she didn't tell Graham's parents, she did tell her other son, who works in a Las Vegas casino. He was worried, she said, but the alarm bells didn't go off for him either. It wasn't until after she'd sent the money that she mentioned the situation to a friend at dinner. The friend said it sounded really suspicious and urged her to call her grandson.

"He was at the library studying," Feldman said.

The same guy called back the next day, asking for another $2,200. Feldman tried to keep him on the phone, hoping that police could trace the call, but they can only do that if they plan in advance, not after the fact.

She filed a report with Chicago police and they traced the phone number to Canada. The money was wired to Spain. But the police said there's little chance they'll catch the criminals or that she'll see her money again.

So now Feldman is telling everyone she knows, hoping to protect other grandparents who, in trying to care for their grandchildren, instead get scammed. Although she's concerned about the money, she's more bothered that her sons and her grandson are upset by the situation.

"We've been through a lot," Feldman said. "I was telling my son in Las Vegas that I was happy because a few years ago, I wouldn't have been able to give him the money. I had it, but now it's gone."

If you get a call like that, officials say the best way to protect yourself is to not panic. Here are a few tips:
  • Make sure that it is your grandchild by asking a question that only the real grandchildren would know (what was the name of their first pet, for example)
  • Contact their parents. If someone asks you to keep it a secret, that's a red flag.
  • Resist pressure to send money quickly and secretly.
  • Refuse to send money through a wire transfer or overnight delivery.

If you feel you've been scammed contact your local police or the Federal Trade Commission.
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