FBI Tech Tuesday: Building a Digital Defense Against Grandparent Scams
Welcome to the Oregon FBI’s Tech Tuesday segment. This week: building a digital defense against grandparent scams.
The love between a grandparent and a child can be very strong—but, ironically, the strength of that bond can actually make families more vulnerable to scam artists. The grandparent scam has been around for awhile, but the use of social media is helping to fuel fraudsters’ ability to make money on it.
Here’s how it works: con artists will pose as a loved one, make up a story about some urgent need, and trick you into wiring money. Only later will you find out that your loved one was never actually in danger and that the money you sent is gone for good.
As we post more and more personal information on social media, we are making the whole thing easier for the fraudsters. Names, photos and info from your travels, school information, and more can be a gold mine for the scam artists. They use this info to make a more convincing story. You could get a call, email, text, or social media message claiming to be a loved one in need. The alleged victim will ask you to send money to pay hospital bills, to get out of jail, to escape a foreign country, or to help deal with an auto accident. Sometimes it will be a story as simple as the victim’s purse was stolen. The scammers will urge you to keep quiet about their need for money and claim to be embarrassed in order to prevent you from looking into it further.
So, no matter how urgent or convincing the story might seem—check it out before sending cash.
Here are some tips:
- Resist the urge to act right away. The story is probably going to sound drastic and urgent, but that is what the scammer is banking on. He wants you to make an impulse decision to send money. Slow down and look into the story before you send anything.
- Call your loved one on a trusted, genuine number; don’t redial the number provided by the caller. You can also verify the story with someone else in your family or friend group.
- Verify the caller’s identity by asking questions that would be difficult for a stranger to answer.
- Familiarize yourself with the information that your family members are sharing online. Many scammers will use this information to make their stories seem more believable.
- Don’t wire money or send a money order. Scammers will almost always ask for money to be sent through a money wire, a gift card, a cash reload card or the like. These payment methods are practically like giving cash. If you pay this way, you will never see the money that you sent again.
If you have been victimized by this online scam or any other cyber fraud, be sure to also report it to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov or call your local FBI office.