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Older New Yorkers: Beware of the "Grandparent Scam"!

Across the nation and in New York State, some older adults are becoming victims of the grandparent scam. This scam involves the grandparent receiving a call or an email unexpectedly from someone who claims to be a friend or relative. This often happens to grandparents with the caller claiming to be their grandson or granddaughter. The caller says there's an emergency and asks the person to send money immediately. Some older adults have reported that the person on the phone sounded like their grandson and knew things only their grandson could know. With social media today, getting information about someone has never been easier.

According to the New York State Attorney General's Office, aging victims across the state lost $441,000 to the "Grandparent Scam" alone in 2012.

Scam artists know exactly how to target grandparents or other older people. But always take an extra few minutes to confirm that the call for help is genuine, before you end up learning an expensive lesson.

The following tips from the Consumer Federation of America can help you avoid becoming a victim of fraud.

  1. How do these scammers choose you to contact? Sometimes they contact people randomly. They also use marketing lists, telephone listings, and information from social networking sites, obituaries and other sources. Sometimes they hack into people's email accounts and send messages to everyone in their contact list.
  2. How do these scammers know the names of your friends or relatives? In some cases they don't. For instance, the scammer may say "Hi grandma," hoping that you actually have a grandson. If you ask, "David, is that you?" the scammer will say "Yes!" Often these crooks will call in the middle of the night and take advantage of the fact that you may not be awake enough to ask more questions and you may not want to disturb other people by calling them to confirm the information. Sometimes the scammers do know the names of your friends or relatives. They can get that information from a variety of sources. Your relatives may be mentioned in an obituary or on a social networking site. Your email contact list may contain the names of friends and relatives.
  3. What do these scammers usually say? They might say something like, "I'm in Canada and I'm trying to get home but my car broke down and I need money right away to get it fixed." Or they may claim to have been mugged, or been in a car accident, or need money for bail or to pay customs fees to get back into the United States from another country. They may also pose as an attorney or law enforcement official contacting you on behalf of a friend or relative. No matter the story, they always want you to send money immediately.
  4. If you realize you've been scammed, what can you do? These scammers ask you to send money through services such as Western Union and MoneyGram because they can pick it up quickly, in cash. They often use phony IDs, so it's impossible to trace them. Contact the money transfer service immediately to report the scam. If the money hasn't been picked up yet, you can retrieve it, but if it has, it's not like a check that you can stop - the money is gone.
  5. How can you protect your email account from being used by scammers? Use a firewall and anti-virus and anti-spyware software. Many computers come with these features already built-in. They are also easy to find on the Internet. Keep your software updated. Don't open attachments in emails from strangers, since they can contain programs that enable crooks to get into your computer remotely.
  6. What else can you do to protect yourself? If you get a call or email from someone claiming to know you and asking for help, check to confirm that it's legitimate before you send any money. Ask some questions that would be hard for an imposter to answer correctly - the name of the person's pet, for example, or the date of their mother's birthday. Contact the person who they claim to be directly. If you can't reach the person, contact someone else - a friend or relative of the person. Don't send money unless you're sure it's the real person you know

Never give out credit card or banking information over the telephone, especially to strangers. Be aware that strangers claiming emergencies may put you at risk. Verify the identity of anyone asking for money.

If you or an older person you know suspects that he or she is being scammed, or has been a victim of a scam, call the state Attorney General's Office hotline at 1-800-771-7755 or visit www.ag.ny.gov(External Link).

Did you Know?
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD) is June 15. Research published in the American Journal of Public Health(External Link) found that one in 10 Americans over the age of 60 had experienced emotional, physical, or sexual abuse-or some form of neglect-in the previous year. This figure does not include financial fraud, a crime to which older Americans are particularly vulnerable.

Visit this blog at the Administration for Community Living's web site(External Link) for more information about elder abuse and WEAAD.