In our September/October print issue, journalist and grandmother Shirley Streshinsky set out to discover why the “grandparent scam,” in which organized teams of con artists try to bilk you out of thousands of dollars by impersonating your loved ones, works so damn well. Along the way, she learned a few things to watch out for.
1. If your nephew or grandchild is supposed to be in jail in, say Chicago, (area code 312) the call should not be coming from Montreal, Canada, area code 514. Or, for that matter, Vancouver (604), Toronto (416), or any other area code. A reason to be wary.
2. Any phone call that insists you run right out and wire money to anyone, especially if that anyone is in a foreign country, is suspect. The jails and the courts do not work that way.
3. Be especially aware of the first few sentences of any call that plunges you into a family crisis that you are expected to resolve. Scammers count on catching you by surprise, knocking you off base. Those first few moments are critical to their success as they try to get you to divulge the basic information: the name of the relative you care enough about to dish over a few thousand dollars. If the caller says something like “Grandma, this is your favorite grandkid,” and makes you guess at what her name is, watch out. Best answer: “Tell me your full name, honey, and who is your favorite brother?”
4. If you find yourself drawn into a conversation, and you try to ask a few questions and notice that the person on the other end of the line deflects them, be wary.
5. When a pseudo-grandchild pleads with her granddad not to tell her parents, they are doing so solely to keep you from calling the parents—who might know exactly where their child is, and is not. Relatives who have kept their “promise” and not told a kids’ parents have caused family problems. If their child was really in trouble, those parents would not appreciate being kept out of the loop. —Shirley Streshinsky