I have been reporting to you about the grandparent scam for more than four years because people continue to fall for this scam losing thousands of dollars to scammers posing as an elderly victim’s grandchild. The scam starts with a late-night telephone call to an elderly victim from a scam artist, the only criminal, we refer to as artists, posing as their intended victim’s grandchild who has been involved in some sort of emergency and needs the grandparent to send them money right away. The criminals often manage to gather valuable information from obituaries and social media of young people, such as the particular names the grandchild may use to refer to their grandparents to make the calls seem more legitimate.
Now in a new twist on the grandparent scam an Omaha grandmother reported being swindled out of $20,000 dollars when she received a call from someone telling her that he was a police office and she needed to send bail money for her grandson who was under arrest. She followed the scammers instructions to buy gift cards and provide the card information to the scammer by phone in order to cover her grandson’s phony bail costs.
For years the preferred method that the scammers instructed their victims to use for sending funds was by wiring the money from Western Union or MoneyGram, however, employees of these companies are now being trained to inquire when suspicious amounts are being sent, particularly overseas. In response, scammers are now telling their victims to buy gift cards such as iTunes Gift cards and give the scammers the numbers by phone so they can access the funds.
Never wire money unless you are absolutely sure about to whom you are wiring the money and it is not a scam. Once you have wired money, it is gone forever. If a claim about a medical or legal emergency is made, contact the hospital or legal authorities in the area to confirm that the information is accurate. Make sure that you have the cell phone number of your grandchild as well as anyone with whom your child or grandchild is traveling so you can confirm any calls claiming that an emergency has arisen. Call the child directly on his or her cell phone to confirm the story. Students traveling abroad should register with the State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program at https://travelregistration.state.gov/ibrs/ui/. This program can help with communications in an emergency situation.
As for being asked to send fund by way of gift cards as scammers are increasingly doing in this scam and other scams, this is always a scam so it is easy to spot. Bail is never paid in gift cards nor does the IRS take gift cards.