The scam is simple: A fraudster pretends to be a senior’s grandchild on a foreign trip. The con artist calls the loving elder begging for money saying he or she is in jail or in some other trouble.
The crooks hide their actual whereabouts on fake caller IDs and are frequently based overseas, beyond the reach of local law enforcement.
To fight this type of fraud, the New York state attorney general’s office has started a prevention program that holds the promise of becoming a national model.
The program, called “Grandkids Against The Grandparent Scam,” was started in November, and involves giving 30- to 60-minute talks to high school students (along with pamphlets) telling them to warn their grandparents not to be victimized.
The grandparents should be warned by these students that if they get emergency calls from people claiming to be the grandchildren, they must first check with other family members to find out where the grandchildren really are.
The program also advises the youngsters to help prevent the spread of the fraud by limiting the amount of personal information they share with others and to “friend” only people they know on Facebook and other social media outlets.
Gary Brown, the statewide elder abuse coordinator with the New York's attorney general’s office, said the grandparent scams are growing and they are underreported.
The elderly are often afraid to tell their adult children they have been victimized, he said, out of fear the children will view this as a form of mental decline and that it will be one step in the process of losing their independence and going to a nursing home.
At least three other jurisdictions are said to be looking at the program. One is Oregon, according to Ellen Klein, the Oregon state attorney general’s director of consumer outreach and education.
“It’s a compelling means to get at the scam in a new way,” she said. “We’re trying to do everything we can to prevent people from becoming victims.”