NEW YORK, NY -- To mark National Grandparents Day, Attorney General Barbara D. Underwood today issued an alert to New Yorkers about the “Grandparent Scam,” a common phone scam that targets senior citizens with calls from fraudsters that pose as a grandchild of the victim. Attorney General Underwood also shared a public service announcement that explains how the scam works and offers tips on how to avoid becoming a victim.
“Stealing from seniors by exploiting their love for their grandchildren is despicable,” said Attorney General Underwood. “I urge New Yorkers to be on the alert for this scam, and protect yourself and your family by following our tips."
The scam typically works as follows: A senior receives an unexpected call from someone who claims to be their grandchild. The caller says there is an emergency and asks the grandparent to immediately send money. For example, the caller might say, “Grandma, I’m in Canada and got arrested for drunk driving. I need bail money fast." Or the caller may claim to have been mugged while away from home, or that his car broke down while he was on vacation. The caller may also pose as an attorney or a law enforcement official contacting the grandparent on behalf of a grandchild.
The scammers often call in the middle of the night to take advantage of the fact that the victim may not be alert enough to ask more questions, and that the victim may not want to disturb other family members by calling them to confirm the information.
Victims are often instructed to go out and buy pre-paid debit cards or gift cards and to call back and read the serial number on the cards, allowing the scammer to transfer the funds. Victims often lose thousands of dollars and the money is rarely recovered, as the scammers can be calling from anywhere in the world. The scam is severely underreported, as many victims are embarrassed and do not want to tell anyone that they fell for the scam.
The Attorney General offers the following tips to protect against the Grandparent Scam:
- Be suspicious of anyone who calls unexpectedly asking you to send money
- Never purchase pre-paid debit cards or gift cards for the purpose of transferring money.
- Develop a secret code or "password" with family members that can be used to verify the identity of family members over the phone.
- Ask a question that only the real grandchild would know the answer to, such as “what was the name of your first pet?”
- Verify any supposed emergency by calling friends and family before sending money.
The Attorney General also shared a public service announcement featuring the “Grandkids Against the Grandparent Scam” initiative, in which high school students are enlisted to warn their parents and grandparents about the scam. The PSA features television personality Dr. Ruth Westheimer, who shares her experience about almost falling victim to the scam.
In 2017, the Federal Trade Commission received 18,912 complaints of individuals impersonating family members and friends, up from 15,076 in 2016.
Additional information from the Attorney General about the Grandparent Scam is available in this brochure. New Yorkers who have been targeted by this scam are urged to call the Attorney General's consumer helpline at 1-800-771-7755.