INDIANAPOLIS – Attorney General Curtis Hill is urging Indiana senior citizens to be vigilant as complaints of “grandparent scams” are becoming more common at the Office of the Indiana Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division (CPD).

Seniors, specifically those who have grandchildren, have become primary targets for scammers – and “grandparent scams” are just the latest evidence of this trend. “Grandparent scams” occur when a senior receives a call, email or Facebook message from a scammer claiming to be their high-school- or college-age grandchild, stating that they are in danger or have an emergency. The common thread is a plea for money – often upwards of thousands of dollars. In 2016, the CPD received 90 “grandparent scam” complaints through the first four months of the year. In 2017, however, the CPD has already received 130 complaints regarding “grandparent scams.”

Scammers will contact a senior posing as the senior’s grandchild, claiming to be on vacation and needing money because they have been arrested, are in the hospital or have been robbed. When the scammer attempts to take advantage of the senior by phone, the scam is especially hard to spot because of the details used by the scammer — often leaving elders confused, scared and worried. The scammer will have done necessary research to present themselves as the senior’s real grandchild. The scammer will know the names of other family members in order to sound more convincing. These details are often pulled from Facebook or online obituaries. The call often occurs in the middle of the night to take advantage of the elder being tired and confused. The caller will sound distressed and panicked.

The scammer then asks the senior to send money – usually many thousands of dollars – to help them get out of jail or pay a hospital bill.  The scammer often will ask the senior, or grandparent of the child they are posing as, to wire the money via Western Union or MoneyGram to a friend or attorney. Believing that they are helping their grandchild, the senior will send money — which is often routed to an overseas location.  Another method is to ask the elder to purchase gift cards and send the scammer the codes.  If the senior falls for the scam and sends something, the scammer, or fake grandchild, will call a second time claiming a new emergency that requires more money.

Because scammers often find their victims using data from online sources such as Facebook, consumers – especially seniors — are urged to review their Facebook privacy settings to ensure information is only shared with their friends and family. If someone calls you claiming to be a family member and asks for money, always verify the request is legitimate before you send money. Hang up the phone and call the family member believed to be requesting this assistance. If you receive a message or email, follow the same steps and call the family member believed to have reached out to you.

Another method is to ask the scammer questions that would be easy for the real grandchild to answer but difficult for a scammer to guess. Even if the scammer claims the situation is an emergency, there is always time to verify the situation before sending any money. Ask specific questions such as “Where did you go to elementary school?” or “Where were we the last time we saw each other?”

Indiana senior citizens who believe they were targeted by a grandparent scam can call the Attorney General Consumer Protection Division at (800)-382-5516 or (317)-232-6330 or file a complaint at IndianaConsumer.com.

SOURCE: News release from the Office of Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill