There is nothing like the love and affection grandparents have for their grandchildren. It is that emotional connection which is sometimes exploited by scammers who would steal thousands of dollars from unsuspecting victims. Westchester County District Attorney Anthony A. Scarpino, Jr. wants to alert the public to the “grandparent scam.”

Scammers begin by checking out social media pages of potential victims; checking on names, relationships and phone numbers. The scam, itself, works like this: A grandparent gets a frantic call in the middle of the night from someone posing as their grandchild saying he or she is in trouble. This person might say he’s been arrested or been in a car accident and needs his grandparent to wire money right away. The “fake” grandchild will often plead, “Please don’t tell my parents.” If the caller doesn’t sound like their grandchild, he will explain it away be saying, “I have a cold” or “My nose was broken in the car accident.” Sometimes, the caller will even identify himself as the grandchild’s best friend.

The call comes in the middle of the night to cause confusion and dread. Often, grandparents do not ask questions and hesitate to call other family members because they think they are protecting their grandchild.  The grandparent is directed to wire an amount of money, or send gift cards or cash somewhere out of state or out of the country. Once that happens, it is like handing over a bag of cash. It’s gone.

Here are some tips to avoid being a victim of the grandparent scam:

  • Your antenna should go up anytime someone calls out of the blue asking you to wire them money, or send gift cards or cash.
  • Immediately call family and friends to verify whether there is a true emergency before you wire any money, or send gift cards or cash.
  • Create a code or password that only family members know and which should be uttered in the event of a true emergency.
  • Avoid putting personal information, like vacation or other travel plans, on social media sites.

It should be noted that grandparent scams often occur during school breaks and summer vacation when a grandparent might believe a grandchild is traveling.

If you or someone you know should become a victim of the Grandparent Scam, report it to your local police department or the Westchester County District Attorney’s Office.