(from CBS News) – In a CBS News investigation, an admitted con artist has revealed how a scam targets and steals money from grandparents.
The scam begins with something most grandparents don’t get enough of — a phone call from a grandchild — or so the caller says. But it almost always ends with a desperate plea for money, and the criminal CBS News met used to be on the other end of the line.
Shackled, and in federal custody, the 31-year-old conman is awaiting sentencing in California for his role in what’s known as the “grandparent scam.” He agreed to let CBS News in on how he did it, but only if we wouldn’t reveal his name.
The former scammer told CBS News’ Carter Evans, “You can make $10,000 sometimes in a day if you do it properly.”
Part of the elaborate scheme was run out of Canada. He would call senior citizens in the U.S., impersonating a grandchild in distress, begging for cash.
Asked how a typical call would go, he said, “You just say, ‘Hey, how are you, hi grandma, hi grandpa… I’m in a little bit of trouble right now. If I tell you, just keep it between us, I’m on vacation, but I got into a little accident, and I was arrested for a DUI.’ You tell them, ‘Things got out of control, and I need you to send me the money.”
So how many people would fall for it? “One out of 50 maybe,” he said.
It’s estimated senior citizens are robbed of roughly $3 billion a year in financial scams. Phone scams are often run outside the U.S. Con artists usually buy their victims’ personal information online, including age and income.
“We target people over the age of 65, mainly, because they’re more gullible,” the former scammer said. “They’re at home. They’re more accessible. Once you get them emotionally involved, then they’ll do anything for you, basically.”
Doug Shadel of AARP said, “We’ve had doctors and lawyers fall for this. It doesn’t matter what your educational level is because it triggers something emotional, it causes you to act.”
It happened to an 81-year-old grandmother who told CBS News, “I was upset, sort of frantic and, of course, sort of shocked.”
She was home alone in California last September when her phone rang. The caller said he was her 29-year-old grandson, arrested for drunk driving in North Carolina. She said, “I felt there was a desperation and an urgency in his voice, partly because he said ‘love you’.”
Asked if it sounded liker her grandson, she said, “No, but he said he had a broken nose. I just wanted him to be home with his family,” she added. “That’s all I wanted.”
So she immediately sent almost $18,000 to a bank account in North Carolina, thinking it was going to a lawyer. But her grandson wasn’t in jail and wasn’t in North Carolina. Her money was gone. CBS News dialed the number of the person who called her. It’s now disconnected.
The grandmother said, “You are blinded by emotion. Totally blinded. You don’t think rationally when this happens. You know, your family comes first.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Ellyn Lindsey prosecuted the scammer CBS News met. “The effect on the victims is so great. It’s not simply the loss of the money. They feel stupid, they fell gullible, and they have nightmares about it and anxiety and depression,” she said.
Asked what drove him to take advantage of grandparents, the scammer said “I didn’t know how much pain this was causing people. … I thought people, you know, who were making $100,000 a year, and they would lose a couple thousand here and there. … I mean, people lose money all the time.” And in most cases, they never get it back.
So what did the scammer do with the money? He said he spent most of it.
Lindsey said, “I think he recognizes now it’s a despicable thing that he did. And he’s doing the right thing in trying to get the word out. He also knows that this will be a factor considered by the judge at his sentencing. But if you ask me, what he’s most sorry about, is getting caught.”
Asked if he feels remorse, the man said, “Of course. Wouldn’t you?”
It’s hard to tell how many senior citizens have been scammed like this, because there is no national database to track the grandparent scam and many grandparents are so embarrassed to report it to police. It’s also very hard to catch these criminals, especially when they’re operating outside the U.S. Also, their tactics can be highly sophisticated, such as disguising their phone numbers with a familiar number.
The former scammer told Evans that in order to guard against this kind of act, people should ask a question that only your grandchild would know, such as the name of your pet, and confide in someone — even though the person on the other end of the line will beg you to keep it a secret.
Editor’s note: To file a complaint with The Federal Trade Commission, go to www.ftc.gov where you can fill out an online complaint form. You can also call the FTC at 1-877-382-4357 to report a complaint.
Reprinted here for educational purposes only. May not be reproduced on other websites without permission from CBS News. Visit the website at cbsnews .com.
1. a) What is the “Grandparent scam” – how do the scammers succeed? Be specific.
b) CBS News interviewed a scammer who was arrested as he is waiting for sentencing. How much did this man say he made with this scam?
2. In his experience, how many people would fall for his scam?
3. Why do these scammers target seniors?
4. What effect does this scam have on those who are duped?
5. a) What do you think of the scammer’s excuse/rationale for what “drove him” to take advantage of grandparents? – why did he say he did it?
b) He says he feels remorse – what other reason do you think he has for saying so, and for giving the interview?
c) Do you think he feels remorse for his criminal actions, or regret at getting caught? Explain your answer.
6. a) Why aren’t there any statistics on the number of grandparents who have been scammed?
b) Why is it so difficult for police to catch these despicable criminals?
7. What suggestion does the scammer make as a way for grandparents to ensure they are really talking to their own grandchild?
8. In addition to this CBS report, recent news stories have been published from Virginia to Arizona to Connecticut. See “Resources” below the questions.
a) In the 2nd video, when the Grandmother tells her “grandson” she doesn’t have any money because she has cancer, does she think he feels bad about that? What does she say?
b) Read the “Background” with suggestions the FBI to avoid being the victim of this scam. Talk to your grandparents about this article and ask them to pass it on to their friends.
The grandparent scam has been around for a few years – [the FBI] Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) has been receiving reports about it since 2008. But the scam and scam artists have become more sophisticated. Thanks to the Internet and social networking sites, a criminal can sometimes uncover personal information about their targets, which makes the impersonations more believable. For example, the actual grandson may mention on his social networking site that he’s a photographer who often travels to Mexico. When contacting the grandparents, the phony grandson will say he’s calling from Mexico, where someone stole his camera equipment and passport.
Common scenarios include:
- A grandparent receives a phone call (or sometimes an e-mail) from a “grandchild.” If it is a phone call, it’s often late at night or early in the morning when most people aren’t thinking that clearly. Usually, the person claims to be traveling in a foreign country and has gotten into a bad situation, like being arrested for drugs, getting in a car accident, or being mugged…and needs money wired ASAP. And the caller doesn’t want his or her parents told.
- Sometimes, 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. And we’ve also received complaints about the phony grandchild talking first and then handing the phone over to an accomplice…to further spin the fake tale.
- We’ve also seen military families victimized: after perusing a soldier’s social networking site, a con artist will contact the soldier’s grandparents, sometimes claiming that a problem came up during military leave that requires money to address.
- While it’s commonly called the grandparent scam, criminals may also claim to be a family friend, a niece or nephew, or another family member.
What to do if you have been scammed. The financial losses in these cases—while they can be substantial for an individual, usually several thousand dollars per victim – typically don’t meet the FBI’s financial thresholds for opening an investigation. We recommend contacting your local authorities or state consumer protection agency if you think you’ve been victimized. We also suggest you file a complaint with IC3, which not only forwards complaints to the appropriate agencies, but also collates and analyzes the data – looking for common threads that link complaints and help identify the culprits.
And, our advice to avoid being victimized in the first place:
- Resist the pressure to act quickly.
- Try to contact your grandchild or another family member to determine whether or not the call is legitimate.
- Never wire money based on a request made over the phone or in an e-mail…especially overseas. Wiring money is like giving cash—once you send it, you can’t get it back.
NBC News reported in March in “Officials Call on FBI to Investigate ‘Grandparent Scam’” Scammers are targeting senior citizens, families and immigrant communities in Connecticut and state officials want to get the word out so more local residents do not become victims. Read the story at nbcconnecticut.com.
Watch an April 17 news report: ‘Grandparent scam’ hits Central Virginia:
and another news report from Jan. 20: “Arizona Grandma records scam artist in action”:
Daily “Answers” emails are provided for Daily News Articles, Tuesday’s World Events and Friday’s News Quiz.