Don’t be a victim of the grandparent scam

A senior answers a phone call from someone asking her to send money.
A senior answers a phone call from someone asking her to send money. Dallas Morning News/MCT

Most of us have probably heard about parking lot and email scams.

But there’s another scam involving the phone and some basic information about you and your family members. According to an story, this scam preys on grandparents’ love and concern for their grandchildren.

It goes something like this. A senior’s phone rings and a voice on the other end says it’s one of the older grandchildren, even adding, “Don’t you recognize my voice?” The storyline will suggest that this grandchild might have been visiting a sibling or other close relative in another city, they went to a ballgame or other social activity and took a cab back to their hotel. On the way, the cab was stopped, drugs were found and the grandchild was arrested. Now he or she needs money wired, and the hard-to-resist plea on the other end suggests it’s urgent.

What do you do? First of all, listen carefully to the story. In this instance, why would they need to take a cab to a hotel when the other relative lives in that city? Did the person name the other relative? Do they even like sports? In the scenario given in the AARP story, the grandparent asked the “grandson” for his relative’s address in that city, and the phone went dead. The grandparent had already been suspicious.

How did someone get the basic information in the first place? This involved having a phone number, knowing at least one relative’s name and another’s city of residence.

“They buy it or steal it,” the Federal Trade Commission told AARP.

Social media such as Twitter and Facebook can offer clues.

AARP advises remaining calm and telling the caller you will check with another family member first. The immediate plea for cash should be a huge red flag. Hang up and check out the story. Contact the grandchild who supposedly called you or another relative who could answer your questions.

If the call was legitimate, you can get back to your grandchild. The much more likely scenario is that it was a scam in which you avoided being a victim.

AARP offers suggestions on keeping access to your personal information at a minimum:

▪ Use antivirus and anti-spyware software on your computer.

▪ If you get an email from a stranger, don’t open attachments, or if the email appears to be from someone you know but there’s something fishy about it, don’t open any attachments.

▪ Don’t tell everybody your business on social media and limit access to your posts and other information.

▪ Ask questions only the real relative could answer, such as a pet’s name, his or her mother’s name and the boss’s name. Don’t feel awkward about it; if it’s a real relative, he or she should be glad you’re being cautious.

▪ If you have fallen prey, don’t let embarrassment get in the way of reporting the situation to police as quickly as possible. Also, if you wired money, contact the money transfer service immediately to report the fraud. It’s possible they could stop the transaction in time.

Tammy Smith: 228-896-2130, @Simmiefran1