Criminals Mine Data from Social Media Sites to Prey on Grandparents
Have you heard of this recent scam? Criminals scour publicly available data on Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites. Then, they locate a vulnerable relative — generally a grandparent — and call them pretending to be a grandchild traveling abroad.
Here’s a typical “grandparent scam” phone call using information gleaned from the Internet:
“Hi Grandma, it’s Tom. I’m in Mexico on break from (the name of the university he attends). I got into a car accident and need some money to pay for the damage (or emergency medical treatment). Can you wire me $2,000 right away? Please don’t tell my parents because they’ll just get upset.”
In some cases, the scammers pretend the grandchild was arrested and is in jail. If money is wired, the grandparents may be contacted again, and told additional money is needed.
Meanwhile, the victims’ grandchildren are actually safe at home or school.
To pull off these scams, criminals go through social media accounts, searching for information. On many accounts, scammers easily gather names, locations, schools attended, photos and other details that allow them to overcome skepticism when they call the grandparents.
According to the FBI, criminals often call “late at night or early in the morning when most people aren’t thinking that clearly.”
There are variations on the scam, the FBI reports, including:
1. Instead of the “grandchild” making the phone call, the criminal pretends to be an arresting police officer, a lawyer, a doctor at a hospital, or some other person. Sometimes, the phony grandchild talks first and then hands the phone over to an accomplice…to further spin the fake tale.
2. After perusing a soldier’s social networking page, a con artist will contact the individual’s grandparents, claiming that a problem came up during military leave that requires money to address.
If you receive such a call, here are some steps to take:
- Don’t be pressured to act quickly.
- Ask questions that would be difficult to answer unless you were actually in the family.
- Ask to contact the individual directly. Call the parents or friends to see if the grandchild is really traveling.
- Don’t send money unless you’re certain it is your family member.
- If you’ve been scammed, contact law enforcement immediately.
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