While the grandparent scam has long plagued older Vermonters, the COVID-19 pandemic has presented a new twist that scammers are exploiting. Scammers, posing as the grandchildren of unsuspecting grandparents, call and pretend to be in the hospital, in jail, or stranded overseas and in urgent need of wire transfers, gift cards, or cash. By presenting an emergency in which their “grandchildren” need help getting out of, scammers pressure panicked grandparents into acting before they can realize it’s a scam. The Attorney General’s Consumer Assistance Program (CAP) has received 93 reports of the grandparent scam since the beginning of the year, of which 34 have been logged since June 1.
“These scenarios are designed by scammers to be emotional and high pressure,” said Attorney General Donovan. “It can be difficult to untangle and identify these scams as many older Vermonters experience physical and social isolation due to COVID-19. If you are presented with this type of scenario—pause; hang up the phone; and, call a friend or family member to verify.”
As reports of the grandparent scams rise, CAP has found that scammers are becoming more sophisticated in their contacts and appear to be using internet searches and public social media profiles to research locations of grandchildren and grandparents. By searching telephone numbers and addresses on the internet and scanning popular social media sites, scammers can learn about familial relationships, ages, and geographic locations. Scammers then use this information to make the scam seem credible.
Here are some tips from the Federal Trade Commission to help avoid being scammed:
- Resist the urge to act immediately – no matter how dramatic the story is.
- Verify the caller’s identity. Ask questions that a stranger couldn’t possibly answer. Call a phone number for your family member or friend that you know to be genuine. Check the story out with someone else in your family or circle of friends, even if you’ve been told to keep it a secret.
- Don’t send cash, gift cards, or money transfers– once the scammer gets the money, it’s gone!
If you, or someone you know, have lost money to this scam, please contact the Consumer Assistance Program right away at 800-649-2424. For more information on the Attorney General’s efforts to support and protect older Vermonters, visit the webpage of the Attorney General’s Elder Protection Initiative.