by Sheryl Reichert
The United Nations recently recognized World Elder Abuse Awareness Day when the whole world voiced its opposition to the abuse and suffering inflicted to our older generations. Elder abuse is a global social issue which affects the health and human rights of millions of older persons around the world.
One prevalent elder abuse scam is called the “relationship scam” or “grandparent scam” where friends and family members are targeted with requests for money. The con-artist will pretend to be a family member in trouble and will frantically plea for money to be sent right away.
A younger-sounding person will pose as a grandchild, niece, nephew or distant cousin with a phony emergency. The urgent situation may include: “I’ve been arrested,” “I’ve been mugged,” or “I’m in the hospital.” Other popular scenarios include that the young family member has caused a car accident or was unfairly arrested for drug possession. Money will be requested for such reasons as posting bail, repairing the grandchild’s car, covering lawyer’s fees or even paying hospital bills for a person the grandchild injured in a car accident. The “grandchild” scammer will beg the elderly victim not to tell parents or other relatives. With each new wave of calls, victims may even be contacted by someone claiming to be a police officer or lawyer representing the grandchild in court.
The BBB recommends to not believe everything you hear and verify the emergency situation with other family members and friends. Ignore the caller’s plea not to tell others, and never send money for an emergency situation without verifying that it’s a real emergency.
Don’t disclose any information until you have confirmed the voice on the line really is your grandchild. If a caller says “It’s me, grandma!” don’t respond with a name but instead let the caller explain who he or she is. One easy way to confirm their identity is to ask a simple question that your grandchild would know, such as what school he or she attends or their middle name.
The BBB also recommends to never send money using a transfer service to someone you have not met in person, and never give your banking information to unknown individuals. Be cautious if someone claims to be from the U.S. but is currently overseas. Fraudsters often use offshore accounts, making it more difficult for law enforcement authorities to track them down and catch them.
The grandparent scam preys on the love of a grandparent for their grandchildren and has proven to be an extremely lucrative con for scammers. Such scams are a form of financial abuse. Scammers will create an expectation of trust that will result in financial loss and considerable distress, especially to older people who fall victim. Awareness and education are the best tools we have in the fight against relationship fraud.
For additional consumer protection information, visit www.bbb.org or contact the Better Business Bureau (BBB) by phoning (858) 637-6199 during regular business hours. Or, call the BBB’s 24-hour Consumer Helpline at (858) 496-2131 or 1-800-600-7050 to obtain free information on local companies along with a list of BBB accredited businesses in a particular type of industry.
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SherylReichert is president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau of San Diego and Imperial Counties.