Social media makes it easy to fall for ‘grandparent scam’

KNOXVILLE (WATE) – An old scam targeting grandparents just won’t go away. Federal authorities say the so-called “grandparent scam” is growing more sophisticated. Social media is making it easy to contact potential victims.

The Federal Trade Commission says thousands of grandparents reported being conned by this scam last year. Becoming a victim of this financial trick is costing grandparents across the country millions of dollars as social media sites make it easy for con artists pretending to be a grandchild to contact a grandma or grandpa with the plea: “I’m in trouble.”

Bobby Wright is like most grandfathers; he’s proud of his eight grandchildren and he’ll do almost anything for them. He recently got a call and believed it was from his granddaughter Casey, who was crying.

“She said, ‘I’ve got trouble and I need you to help me out if you will.’ I said, ‘Sure I will, if I can,'” said Wright.

Wright was about to be suckered into the “Grandpa, I’m in trouble” scam.

“She said, ‘I got stopped for DUI and they got me in jail,'” he said.

Bobby Wright

The scammer pretending to be his granddaughter Casey passed the phone on to a so-called lawyer who said she needed bail money.

“He said the judge was very unfair and just hit her with the book,” said Wright.

Wright said he really believed the caller was Casey. It sounded like her. So he went to a Walgreens near his home and wired $1,550 by Western Union to spring his granddaughter from jail. Once that money was sent, there was no way to get it back.

“There’s always a situation where you’re told send money or there will be even greater peril,” said Bill Schall with Elder Watch and AARP.

He says many grandparents, like Wright, can easily fall victim to this scam.

“And it’s really playing on the emotions of the grandparent for their grandchild.  There are many ways that the caller will make a representation about this. All of them have some sense of impending doom. Therefore, the grandparent is naturally concerned and wants to help,” said Schall.

Wright says the scariest part of the experience is that the scammers knew his name and phone number. The FTC says personal information can be bought from various sources and personal information can be announced to the world on social media, like Facebook and Twitter.

Wright discovered it was a scam when he called Casey’s parents and found out she was at work, not in jail.

“It’s kind of a dumb thing on my part. But just want to let the people to know in case it happens to them,” Wright said.

If you ever get a call about relative in trouble, and the immediate request is for cash, you need to pause, calm yourself, say you will have to consult another family member first, and hang up.

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