The Grandparent Scam typically works as follows:
The victim receives a phone call from an individual(s) posing as their grandchild and claiming to be in jail and in need of money for bail, or in the hospital, or that they have just been in an accident. The imposters usually claim they are in another state or out of the country and need money wired to a “so called” bail bondsman, attorney, or other individual to help bail them out of jail or pay for medical bills. The amount the perpetrators ask to be wired has varied from $500 to $5000. Many times these perpetrators also call victims using phones with static so as to help convince the elderly person their grandchild/relative is truly calling from a distant location.
The con works because the scammers prey upon the emotions of caring and trusting elderly individuals who are concerned about the safety and well being of their grandchild. The individuals who have reported incidents to the VPD said they were suspicious about the phone call but their worry and anxiety for their grandchild overshadowed their doubts. Furthermore, some of the individuals who complied with the perpetrator’s request did so because they feared the criminals could have additional personal information on them or other family members and might retaliate in some fashion. Others, unfortunately, said they were too embarrassed initially to report being a victim of this type of crime.
We want to remind community members to never blindly follow directions from someone on the phone that requests personal information or money. Please take the time to verify the story and its authenticity. For example, you could ask the caller a question that only a relative would know the answer to. If you are suspicious do not send money, hang up the phone, and report the incident to the police.
You can also report scams online to the National Consumers League’s Fraud Center at www.fraud.org. They maintain a national repository of information and will insure your information gets to the proper investigating authority. If you are the victim of a crime please report it immediately to the Ventura Police Department at 1425 Dowell Dr., Ventura, CA, or call 805-339-4400.
Although there is some variation to each particular scam, the premise of each is fairly consistent – that is, in one form or another you are asked to send money or cash a fraudulent check.
In most cases the scam works as follows: the victim receives an official looking letter claiming to be from a recognized financial institution, state lottery, sweepstakes organization, or other entity. The letter normally congratulates you on your winnings, states you have won a prize, or have been selected to take part in some sort of promising opportunity. You are also asked to cash an enclosed check, which appears valid and legitimate, in exchange for a forthcoming payment, or so they may process your payment for an additional prize when you send money. The victim may also be asked to send money via wire or money gram to cover the initial “taxes, fees, or legal costs” associated with said prize.
In another form of related Lottery Scams, suspects will claim that they have a winning lottery ticket but that they are not legal residents of the United States and therefore, cannot turn the ticket in to get their winnings. The suspects will then offer to sell the "winning ticket" to the victim for a substantial amount of money, but still less than the ticket is supposed to be worth.
In this case, the victim loses the cash and ends up with a worthless, fake lottery ticket.
Regardless, these types of scams work when you send money via wire, and/or cash the enclosed check/lotto ticket. Although it may take weeks for the forgery to be discovered the check you deposit into your account is fraudulent and will bounce. Meanwhile if you also wired money you could potentially be out twice.
Whatever the set-up, the results are always the same for the victim – they end up losing hundreds or thousands of dollars in these scams. Be advised that YOU are responsible for checks or money deposited into your account. When a check or money order bounces YOU will owe the bank the money you withdrew and the scammer will have the additional money sent in his/her pocket.
IRS Scam: The scammer says money is owed and must be paid immediately by phone.
Edison/Gas Scam: The scammer says money is owed and if not paid immediately the service will be turned off.
Social Security/Medicare Scam: The scammer says they are an officer with the social security office or with Medicare. They say your account has been hacked and then they proceed to ask for personal information.
"Can You Hear Me" Scam: Scammers are calling victims hoping to get them to say the word "yes" during the conversation that's being recorded. The scammer will later use the recording of the victim saying yes to authorize unwanted charges on the victim's utility or credit card account.
Text Message Phishing Scam: Scammers are using a new texting scam and spoofing banks' phone numbers and sending text messages to customers. A spoofed phone number hides the actual number the text is coming from and displays a number from a trusted source, like your bank. The text claims that your debit card has been used to make a purchase and if you do not recognize the transaction, you need to call their fraud prevention helpline. A phone number is provided for you to call. Because the incoming text looks like it's from your bank, people are falling for this. If you do call the number provided in the text, the fraudster will answer the phone. They will then ask you to confirm your sensitive banking details. This would allow the scammer to steal money from your account.
QR Code Scam: Scammers slightly alter the QR code or add a small sticker to the center of the existing one intending to gain access into your phone. By doing so, when you scan expecting to make an electronic payment, you do not question the website you are forwarded to. When you enter your banking login credentials to make the payment, you are actually entering your information on a banking phishing site. With this personal information in hand, it's easy for them to make payments on your behalf - likely into accounts of their own.
Ask yourself these questions:
- Does it look to good to be true? Then it probably is.
- Did you initiate contact with this company? For example, are you being notified that you won a contest you never entered? Unsolicited offers are often questionable.
- Are there errors or inconsistencies in the information provided? For example, does the letter list a company address in one country/state while the check issued is from a company in a different country/state?
- Does the text reflect a poor command of the English language? Here’s an example from another letter, “We are therefore with great pleasure to notify you that your e-mail address once again, happened to come out top number (1).”
- Are they asking for money or personal information?
- Are they insisting you must “act now” or lose a good opportunity?
Most of these questions sound obvious and a good dose of common sense is usually good enough to keep you from being a victim. However, the crooks that perpetrate these kinds of scams only do so because they are successful at it and it pays for them.
The letters, e-mails, and phone calls often sound legitimate and can be very convincing. If in doubt, shred the mail, hang up the phone, delete the e-mail, or refuse to open the door to your home to someone you don’t know and trust.
There was a guy in Florida who, using names and social security numbers of 160 deceased folks was able to acquire 700 credit cards from 15 different financial institutions, charging nearly 2 million dollars over a three year period. Phew!
This is an extraordinary case, but using someone's death to perpetrate crime is not terribly uncommon. Thousands of credit cards and checking accounts are opened every year in the name of folks who have already left this mortal world.
Bad guys scan obituaries and funeral service notices for information like:
- Descendant’s name
- Descendant’s birthdate
- Names of descendants relative (mother's maiden name?)
- Anything else they might be able to use for fraudulent purposes.
Sadly, there are even cases of really brazen thieves watching for dates and times of services and then burglarizing relatives homes while they are honoring their loved one. In this case, it would be prudent to ask a neighbor or friend to stay at the house during services to keep an eye on things.
It's unpleasant, but important to be aware of these types of crimes and to take precautions to guard against them. The Identity Theft Resource Center has compiled fact sheets on a number of types of scams and fraud, including one on Identity Theft and the Deceased.
The "Gold Bar" or "Jewelry" Scam is fairly common and has occurred in several jurisdictions within Ventura County. A typical scenario might go like this:
One of two Spanish speaking suspects lures the victim, who is often elderly, into a conversation about the suspect having a family member in dire need of medical attention. Suspect #1 offers to sell the victim a "gold bar", or high priced jewelry, in order to get the money needed to obtain medical treatment. Suspect #2 comes along and confirms that the "gold bar"/jewelry is real and very valuable.
The suspects then accompany the victim to the bank where the victim makes a substantial withdrawal and hands the money over to the crooks for a worthless piece of concrete painted gold, or fake jewelry.
Identity Theft-Frauds-Scams: You hear about them all the time. Everyone knows somebody who’s been a victim, or has been a victim themselves. It’s a nightmare for those who get ripped-off and a nightmare for those who investigate these types of crime.
- Fraud.org (Check it out!)
- You can report scams online to the National Consumers League’s Fraud Center at www.fraud.org. They maintain a national repository of information and will insure your information gets to the proper investigating authority. If you are the victim of a crime please report it immediately to the Ventura Police Department at 1425 Dowell Dr., Ventura, CA, or call 805-339-4400.
- Technological advances help the bad guys cover their tracks pretty well so they are near impossible to tie to their crimes. And jurisdictional enforcement issues can involve city and state police, the FBI, the FTC, US Postal Service and many, many other agencies.
How to make sense of it all?
- Call 1-800-876-7060. They take reports, analyze the incidents, and then forward them to the appropriate investigating agency.
- They also have lots of great tips and information on their website, so be sure to have a look!
Some Helpful Websites:
- www.fraud.org (National Consumers League’s Fraud Center)
- www.ic3.gov/default.aspx (Internet Crime Complaint Center)
- www.idtheftcenter.org/ (Non profit ID Theft Center)
- www.scambusters.org (Helpful Scam Buster Website)
- www.ftc.gov (Federal Trade Commission)
- www.fraudsandscams.com (Use the Drop Down Link to Check out Many Common Scams and Frauds)
- http://da.countyofventura.org/special_prosecutions/victim_services/va_br... (Ventura County DA’s Office Crime Prevention Handbook for Seniors)
- https://www.seniorliving.org/research/common-elderly-scams/ (National Council for Safety, Prevention and Wellness)
- https://themoneypig.com/elder-fraud-prevention/ (Elder Fraud Prevention)