Protect yourself from the grandparent scam

Unfortunately, the "grandparent scam" is still alive and well, and we regularly get reports about it from our residents.  In this type of scam, the scam artist calls or emails someone pretending to be their grandchild, niece, nephew or friend.  The callers sound upset and have a sad story:  they're traveling in a foreign country, or far from home, and after a car accident or legal infraction, they're in jail and need money wired as soon as possible, or they need money wired to get their car released from storage, or other urgent need for money.  Their situation is often embarassing, and they'll beg their target to help them quickly, and not to tell their parents. 

Scam artists have ways to make their story sound convincing.  They might know the names of their target, grandchildren and other relatives, gleaned from social media sites or other internet sources.  Sometimes the scam artist will pose as a police officer, lawyer or other authority figure who will relay the sad tale; or the so-called "grandchild" will put them on the phone, or have the targeted victim call another number where such an "authority" will vouch for their story.  The sums of money requested range from several hundred to several thousand dollars, and once money has been wired, scam artists will almost always call again and try to get more.  Once money has been wired and picked up at the remote location, it's gone.  Recently we've noticed that scam artists are also asking their targets to purchase Green Dot cards or other instant money cards, and give them the account numbers.  Like wired money, these cash cards are also just like cash--once the con artist cashes them, the money is gone and can't be refunded.

In general, requests for money wire transfers or cash cards are a red flag for scams.  Never wire money to anyone you have not met in person unless you are absolutely sure of their identity.

If you are contacted by someone claiming to be a relative or friend, ignore their pleas of urgency and secrecy, and check out their story. Immediately call them at their normal phone number (not a phone number provided by your caller)--you'll often find out they're at home, school or work as usual, and not traveling abroad at all.  Call their parents or other family members to verify their whereabouts. 

When in doubt, and before you send any money abroad, contact the U.S. State Department's Office of Overseas Citizens Services (OCS) at 1-888-407-4747.  The State Department's staff will work through their embassies to verify the story and help provide assistance in the unlikely event their story is true.