What follows is a real story about an incident in the life of a Des Moines small business owner. It's an example of a classic, “Grandparent Scam,” and offers a textbook example of how identity information can be used to attempt to trick victims into transferring funds to a scammer.
My husband’s 84-year-old mother recently received a call from her 20-something grandson. Daniel is not the most communicative young man there ever was, so naturally Grandma Phyllis was extremely happy to hear from him.
Her delight quickly turned to alarm, however, when he said, “Grandma, I was in a car accident. I got pretty banged up so I can’t talk that well right now cuz’ I’ve got stitches in my mouth, and I’m on painkillers. The accident was totally the other driver’s fault, but it was a pregnant woman driving, so the police went to her first. She told them a convincing lie about how it was all my fault, and the cops took me to jail, and now I have to post bail.”
The more “Daniel” talked, the more Paul’s mom began to think that something was fishy. For one thing, Daniel has been in his share of typical, young male scrapes, and he’d never before called to ask for help. She only ever heard about his errors of judgement after the fact, second-hand from his parents or his sister, and he’d definitely never called asking for money. Plus, even allowing for stitches, this really did not sound like her grandson.
When Paul’s mom told the caller that he didn’t sound like Daniel, he angrily repeated that it was because he had stitches in his mouth and had been given a painkiller. Suspicious, she began to ask him a few personal questions, whereupon “Daniel” became agitated and hung up on her.
Paul’s mom speed-dialed Daniel, didn’t get him, but reached his sister, Darragh, who immediately drove to the house to look for her brother, and there he was — not in jail — upstairs in his room sleeping. Grandma Phyllis said that she was never so happy to hear that her grandson was being a layabout in her whole life.
It was of course all a scam to get her to send bail money. The scary part, the ID hacking part, was that they had her cell phone number and knew that she had a grandson named Daniel.
When Paul’s mom told the story to her older sister, Jean said that she’d received a similar call about her great-grandson. The details were slightly different, but all pertinent. Whoever it was knew Joe was a high school student; purported to be him, claimed he’d gotten picked up by the police for getting into a gang fight off school property and needed money to be released.
In most grandparent scams, the caller doesn’t have the name of the grandchild before the call but tricks the grandparent into divulging it during the call. However, the above case shows that sometimes the caller has personal information that helps make the scam more convincing. So, how do the scammers get hold of personal information, such as the grandmother’s cell number and her grandson’s name, that help them perpetrate these scams?
The answer most often lies in what we voluntarily divulge. For example, social media users who don’t pay attention to their privacy controls may be divulging facts every day that are used against them by callers. Social media sites are doing more today to empower users to limit who may see their posts. Learn what Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter and others offer to help users limit who may see their posts. The bottom line for all of us is to be wary of calls out of the blue, supposedly from a relative or friend, asking us to act on the spur of the moment to wire money somewhere — and alert our older loved ones to hang up if they get a call such as the one received by Paul’s mom.
This page was produced by the Iowa Organization for Victim Assistance under award #2016-XV-GX-K004, awarded by the Office for Victims of Crime, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this website are those of the contributors and do not necessarily represent the official position or policies of the U.S. Department of Justice.