Imagine you’re sitting at home on your computer. All of a sudden your e-mail pops up, and it’s from your grandson. “Hi Grandma,” the e-mail starts. He tells you that he’s in a mess. He’s in some legal trouble, perhaps due to drunken driving or an unpaid ticket, and he needs money to get out of jail and to get home safely, and he can’t tell his parents. He needs you to wire him two or three thousand dollars to help get him home. You would do that for your grandchild, wouldn’t you?
The only problem? The e-mail is a complete stranger, not your grandson, and you’ve just lost thousands of dollars to a scammer.
Thousands of seniors receive this kind of e-mail every year, and thousands more receive phone calls from people claiming to be friends and family members in distress. In fact, this type of scam is so popular, it even has a name: “The Grandparent Scam,” and a recent FBI report says that this is a fairly new swindle, having first received reports of it only in 2008.
For protection from these scams, anti-fraud groups, as well as organizations such as the FBI advise people to verify everything if possible, and to avoid giving out personal information.
But no anti-fraud system is perfect, and ultimately the best way to avoid being a scammer’s next target isn’t just prevention; it’s education.
Over the last few years, as the number of seniors online has continued to grow, scammers have invented new ways of preying on the elderly, using the Internet as a way to cheat more people. And while an understandable response could be to simply avoid the Internet, anti-fraud experts say it’s not that simple.
“We’re all on some social media site, whether we like it or not,” said Constable Paul Proulx, Manager of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police’s Anti-Fraud Centre.. “So it’s nice to Google ourselves once in a while.”
Proulx said many seniors who are wary of being scammed online shy away from social media networks, but that doesn’t solve the problem, because their information is likely online in some capacity, such as a photo album on one of their grandchildren’s Facebook accounts which has a photo of their grandparent. That information can help scammers and fraudsters learn the name of the grandchildren, where they live, and how old they are, and using that information, it becomes easy to impersonate them.
According to Chantez Bailey of the National Crime Prevention Council, scams against seniors are nothing new, but because scammers are always developing as new technologies become popular, seniors need to learn how to accommodate new technologies as well.
The best way, then, for seniors to protect themselves from online scams, especially the ‘Grandparent Scam,’ is to follow a few rules, according to Bailey:
1/ Never give away your credit card number to someone who called you on the phone. Only give it away if you called them.
2/ If you think you are being scammed by someone posing as your grandchild, confirm the details with their parent to see if the story lines up.
3/ Don’t make any purchases or investments based on an unsolicited telephone call. Consult a lawyer of an expert who can sniff out the details for you.