Through social engineering scams scammers swindled almost three-quarters of a million dollars from an elderly woman who fell for an elaborate scam involving fake legal trouble, a granddaughter, and Uber. What are these grandparent scams, and how can people protect themselves from becoming victims? Let’s take a look.
Ongoing Investigation in Florida
Investigators in Tampa, FL, are attempting to find answers to a report raised by an 82-year-old woman who reportedly withdrew more than $700,000 after being informed her granddaughter was in legal trouble and needed fast cash.
Withdrawals were made over the summer from 13 branches of the woman’s bank, and then the cash was picked up by a courier service through popular ride app, Uber. Records were then requested to help identify the drivers, in an attempt to get to the bottom of the scam.
According to the victim, she was contacted via phone call from someone claiming to be her granddaughter, stating she had been in a car accident, had been arrested, and needed money to get out of jail. Court records say a man then took over the phone call posing as a lawyer.
He then convinced the woman to acquire the cash as soon as possible, instructing her to tell the bank it was for home construction contractors who preferred cash payments. Furthermore, the 82-year-old was told to wrap the cash in padded envelopes ready for collection by the Uber courier driver.
Lawsuit Filed by Florida Woman’s Lawyer
The attorney representing the scam victim- filed a lawsuit against her bank. The claim cites negligence on the bank’s part for allowing so many large and unusual withdrawals- even ignoring the fact that red flags were raised.
More Information about Grandparent Scams and How to Avoid Becoming a Victim
Sadly, these events are not isolated. This woman is one of many who fall victim to scams that specifically targeted the elderly and use their grandchildren as an incentive to give up large amounts of cash.
Tell Tale Signs of a Grandparent Scam
- A call or email comes at a strange time- often in the middle of the night.
- The caller claims to be a grandchild (they may or may not provide a name).
- There is some kind of emergency that requires immediate financial assistance.
- Usually, the caller specifically requests cash.
How Are Victims Chosen and Contacted?
Scammers use various channels to find their victims- some more targeted than others. Less sophisticated attackers may make calls at random, going through hundreds or thousands of numbers and emails until they find one that sticks.
Others put in a bit more research, utilizing marketing research, social media, contact lists, obituaries, and many other sources. Basically, they will look anywhere they can to find a person who could be a potential target.
In some cases, scammers can hack into people’s emails. They send out emails to that person’s contacts in the hope that someone responds. The same can apply to social networking channels.
Ways to Avoid Getting Caught in a Grandparent Scam
There are two stages to defending yourself from scammers: protecting your information and being proactive about prevention.
Protect your Information
Let’s start with information: the less people can find out about you online, the less ammunition they have to use against you. Great examples of this are names, birthdays, and personal data about you and the person the caller claims to be.
Social media is an excellent way to stay connected with family, but it is also a well of information for a scammer. Keep your account private, never share more info than you need to, and ask your grandchildren to be wary of what they post concerning you as well. It is much easier to identify a scammer if they don’t know anything about you or your family.
Also, try to limit how many marketing lists and directories you are on to reduce the likelihood of your contact details popping up. There is nothing wrong with having a listed number but try to keep the spread to a minimum.
You should also install a firewall on your email to protect it from hackers. Do not open attachments from people or addresses you don’t know and delete any suspicious emails.
Take Preventative Measures
It may seem excessive but having a plan in place for what to say and ask if you suspect a phone call or email could be a scam can save you. Often, one question to prove the caller’s identity is enough to bring the whole scam to a halt.
Some possible measures include:
- Number screening: Do you recognize the number, or is it hidden?
- Ask for a name rather than offering one: Instead of saying Adam, is that you, ask who it is and if they simply say your grandson, push for more information.
- Ask something only they would know: Have questions ready that you are sure only your real grandchild would know. Don’t use birthdays or other family names, as the scammers may have access to these. Consider setting up a security question with your grandchildren that they should use if they ever have to call in an emergency.
- Question the circumstances. If they say they are in a foreign country and need assistance, then ask why they are there. Who are they with? How long have they been away?
- Make confirmation phone calls: If in doubt, say you will call back and phone someone who can confirm the details. Scammers may try to stop you from doing this, but that should be a red flag!
What To Do if You Think You Have Been Scammed
Act as quickly as possible if you already sent money and think you may have been scammed. Western Union and MoneyGram are popular choices with scammers because they are almost impossible to trace- and they can use phony IDs.
You can stop the scammer if they have not yet picked up the money by canceling the collection, but once it is gone, it is gone.
Never send cash to anybody unless you are 100% sure they are who they say they are. Remember, there are very few genuine circumstances where a person must have cash only straight away, and they should be able to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that their identity and circumstances are genuine.
Written by Robert Siciliano, CEO of Credit Parent, Head of Training & Security Awareness Expert at Protect Now, #1 Best Selling Amazon author, Media Personality & Architect of CSI Protection Certification.