COLUMBUS — Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine warns families to beware of phone scams targeting grandparents.
The “grandparent scam” occurs when a con artist calls a grandparent and claims to be a grandchild who is away from home and in need of immediate financial help. Grandparents are asked to send thousands of dollars to help the grandchild return home safely.
In 2015, the Ohio Attorney General’s Office has received approximately 40 complaints involving this type of scam, with an average reported loss of more than $4,000.
“One of the reasons this scam works is that the relationship between a grandparent and a grandchild is different than the relationship between a parent and a child,” DeWine said. “Grandparents are more likely to send money, no questions asked. Scam artists understand this and they take advantage of it.”
Grandparents who are targeted by the scam often are told their grandchild has been in an accident, arrested for driving under the influence, or found with marijuana in the car. Sometimes an “officer” or an “attorney” comes on the phone to explain the seriousness of the situation and why money is needed right away (to post bail or to cover medical costs, for example).
Then the grandparents are asked to purchase prepaid money cards, which are commonly available at grocery and convenience stores. Once they purchase the cards, they are told to provide the multi-digit codes on the back of the cards. With this information, scammers can go online and drain the cards’ funds.
In a recent variation of the scam, con artists ask victims to buy iTunes cards, to provide the card numbers over the phone, and then to mail the cards to someone else, making it harder for victims to report the scam or attempt to recover their money.
Consumers can protect themselves from the grandparent scam by following these tips:
- Talk to your family about these scams and discuss how you would communicate during a true emergency.
- If you get a call from a grandchild or other family member who claims to be in trouble, ask questions only your real family members would know how to answer.
- Don’t send money via wire transfer or prepaid card in response to an unexpected phone call. These are preferred payment methods of scammers because they are difficult to trace or recover once payment is provided.
- Watch for any unusual banking activity or prepaid card receipts from your grandparents or other family members.
- Limit the amount of information you post online and limit who can view your information. For example, don’t post upcoming travel plans online, because scammers could use that information to take advantage of your family.
Ohioans who suspect a scam should contact the Ohio Attorney General’s Office at 1-800-282-0515 or www.OhioAttorneyGeneral.gov.