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NCL warning consumers to steer clear of 'Grandparent Scam'

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December 15, 2010

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Washington, DC – The National Consumers League’s Fraud Center today put out an alert to consumers to be aware of scam artists using variations on the so-called “Grandparent Scam” this holiday season. The alert comes in response to a number of consumer complaints that the Fraud Center has received recently regarding attempted and successful frauds by unscrupulous scammers.

In a typical Grandparent Scam, a con artist calls or emails the victim posing as a relative in distress or someone claiming to represent the relative (such as a lawyer or law enforcement agent). The scammer may frantically tell the victim a variation of “Grandma, it’s me,” followed by a description of the problem in which they have found themselves (arrested, in an auto accident, in need of a lawyer, etc.). The victim is then instructed to wire money to the scam artist with the claim that the funds will be used for bail money, lawyer’s fees, hospital bills, or other expense. The victim is urged not to tell anyone, such as the parent of the “grandchild” because they do not want them to find out about the trouble they've gotten themselves into.

“Scam artists will stop at nothing to defraud consumers, many of whom are often elderly and living on fixed incomes,” said John Breyault, NCL Vice President of Public Policy, Telecommunications and Fraud. “The scary part about this scam is that it preys on our natural inclination to want to help a loved one who is in distress.”

To detect and avoid the Grandparent Scam, NCL’s Fraud Center recommends the following tips:

  • Beware of any urgent solicitation of funds, especially if it is needed to pay for unexpected bills, such as bail money, lawyer’s fees, or doctor bills
  • Before sending funds, independently contact the relative (or parent of the relative) the scam artist is claiming to be (or represent) at a known phone number to verify the details of the story.
  • Scam artist’s payment method of choice is the wire transfer. Any urgent request to wire money should be treated suspiciously.
  • Be aware that fraudsters attempting the Grandparent Scam” may call late at night to confuse potential victims.
  • Consumers who have been victims of this scam should immediately report it to local law enforcement, their state attorney general and NCL’s Fraud Center at www.fraud.org.

“Consumers with older relatives should be sure to warn them about this scam,” said Breyault. “These fraudsters are cunning and know how to push all the right buttons to separate victims from their money.”

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About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America's pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit www.nclnet.org.