From a Newport Beach Police Department press release:
"Grandma? Is that you? This is Joe."
"–Yes, are you okay?"
"No, I'm in jail. In Canada. I had a car accident and they arrested me. Now I need money to get out of jail. Please don't tell mom and dad; I want to tell them myself when I get home. Will you help me?"
Telephone calls like this are happening throughout the country, including right here in Newport Beach. This is only one variation of the scam; in each case the suspect uses a different but similar story.
In this scam, impostors call senior citizens identifying themselves as their grandchild and requesting money for an emergency situation. The con artist may then ask the grandparent to wire money, often out of the country or out of state, to cover the alleged grandchild’s fees or fines to be released from jail or to re-enter the United States. Alternately, the suspect may ask the grandparent to purchase pre-paid debit/credit cards and send them to a distant address for similar purposes.
In some calls, the "grandchild" is crying (to disguise his/her voice). The suspect may know an actual grandchild’s name, or may use a ruse to get the grandparent to disclose the grandchild’s name ("Grandpa, do you know who this is?”, "Is this Susan?").
Here are tips to help you avoid this scam:
- Do not fill in the blanks for the caller. Often, they do not know the names of the grandchildren, but are relying on their victim to provide that information. Ask callers to identify themselves. If you do not provide them any information, they will likely hang up.
- Verify the whereabouts of the alleged caller by contacting other family members - or the grandchild they claim to be. Do not use telephone numbers provided by the caller.
- Never send money unless you have verified that your relative is really in trouble.
- Never give out personal identifying information, such as bank account or credit card account numbers, to anyone you do not know.
Keep in mind with the many sources of public information at their fingertips, these con artists can easily find out basic information about people and use it to their advantage. They may read obituaries, go into social networking sites of the Internet, or use other sources to find out just enough details to pull off their scam.
Most importantly, remember once the money is sent by a wire transfer, there is no way to stop the transaction. If the money is sent to a foreign country, U.S. authorities have no jurisdiction to pursue the matter. Authorities rarely, if ever, are able to recover the consumer's payment.
If you believe you’ve been the victim of a scam, please file a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at: www.ic3.gov.