Following a series of recent complaints and reports of criminals targeting older Iowans by telephone and stealing thousands of dollars, the Oskaloosa Police Department would like to warn residents about an apparent resurgence of the so-called “grandparent scam.”
The Police Department has received several reports of callers targeting older residents by claiming to be a grandchild (a niece, nephew or other relative) with an emergency need for cash. The callers try to convince their victims to immediately wire a large amount of money to help pay a sudden personal crisis, such as a car accident, medical emergency or even bail money. These scams surprise their victims and convey a sense of a relative facing an immediate need, so victims don’t have time to check out the story. They prey on older victims who would do anything to help their loved one.
Common scenarios include:
- A grandparent receives a phone call (or sometimes an email) from a grandchild. If it is a phone call, it’s often late at night or early in the morning when most people aren’t thinking that clearly. Usually the person claims to be traveling, in another state or in a foreign country, and has gotten into a bad situation, like being arrested for drugs, being mugged, in an accident or arrested, and needs money wired ASAP. And sometimes the caller doesn’t want his or her parents told.
- Sometimes, instead of the “grandchild” making the phone call, the criminal pretends to be an arresting police officer, a lawyer, a doctor at a hospital, or some other person. And we’ve also received complaints about the phony grandchild talking first and then handing the phone over to an accomplice…to further spin the fake tale.
- We’ve seen military families victimized; after perusing a soldier’s social networking site, someone will contact the soldier’s grandparents, sometimes claiming that a problem came up during military leave that requires money is sent to an address.
- They want you to pay to collect your winnings. Legitimate sweepstakes don’t require you to pay insurance, taxes or shipping to claim what you’ve won. Scammers pretend to be with banks, and well-known companies like Publishers Clearing House to make you think it’s the real deal. No matter how convincing the reasons NEVER SEND MONEY TO CLAIM A PRIZE.
- They claim to be with a government agency. They may try to get you to send money saying they’re with the IRS, US Customs, or US Marshals Service. They might even use a real employee’s name and call from a Washington DC phone number. But it’s a number they’ve faked. Contrary to scammers’ lines, NO FEDERAL GOVERNMENT AGENCY supervises or runs sweepstakes.
To avoid being victimized:
- Resist the pressure to act quickly.
- Try to contact your grandchild or another family member to determine whether or not the call is legitimate.
- NEVER wire money based on a request made over the phone or in an e-mail…especially overseas. Wiring money is like giving cash-once you send it, you can’t get it back. Don’t send a check or money order by overnight delivery or courier, either. And don’t deposit a check and wire money back – the check will turn out to be a fake.
Have conversations with your older relatives about the “grandparents scam” and other telephone scams that are targeting older residents. Encourage older relatives to screen their calls, not answer the phone to unknown numbers or unknown persons. Scammers want that personal contact to play upon the immediate need. No matter how legitimate it may sound or how important it may seem to act immediately, take the time to check it out.
Register your phones and your older relatives phone numbers with the NATIONAL DO NOT CALL REGISTRY at www.donotcall.gov or their phone number is 888-382- 1222.
Oskaloosa citizens are encouraged to contact the Oskaloosa Police Department at 641-672- 2557 or the Consumer Protection Division at 888-777- 4590 if they feel they’ve been a victim of such a scam.