Milwaukee, Wis. February, 3, 2009 – The Wisconsin Better Business Bureau is issuing a warning to seniors after an elderly couple in St. Croix County, Wis. recently lost more than $19,000 to scammers pretending to be the couple’s grandson.
The couple first received a call from a con artist claiming to be their grandson’s lawyer on Nov. 20, 2009. The grandparents, in their 70s, were told that their grandson had been involved in a car accident in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. The scammer then requested money for the grandson’s bail and other damages from the accident, which included a pregnant woman who was now in a coma. The couple was also contacted by a man identifying himself as their grandson, who advised them not to tell his parents about the accident.
Both callers asked for money, and the Wisconsin couple wired funds through Western Union eight times in six days – including three transfers on Thanksgiving Day -- totaling $19,334. After speaking with their daughter two days later, the couple discovered that their grandson had not been out of the state of Wisconsin during the alleged dates of the accident and subsequent scam.
“This type of scam is particularly appalling because it victimizes grandparents who want nothing but to protect their grandkids,” said Randall Hoth, president/CEO of the Wisconsin BBB. “And this case, especially, is alarming; it’s the worst of its kind that the Better Business Bureau has ever seen.”
This scam is commonly referred to as “The Grandparent Scam” or “The Emergency Scam,” and was listed second on the BBB’s Top 10 Scams of 2008 report. Typically, the scam begins with a phone call from a con artist posing as a grandchild. The voice is distressed, usually explaining an arrest or motor vehicle accident in Canada, and asking that his or her parents not be informed. The fraudster then requests money to be wired through a transfer company, often Western Union or MoneyGram. Phone numbers during these conversations are often listed as “unavailable.”
According to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Call Center (CAFC), there were 278 reports of failed and 88 reports of successful Grandparent Scams from January through October in 2009, totaling $317,732.63 in fraud. The CAFC estimates, however, that these reports reflect only 5% of the actual number of cases.
The BBB advises that emergency phone calls from loved ones be confirmed by additional family members before any financial transactions are made. Consumers should also recognize any request to send money to a foreign country through a wire transfer company, such as Western Union or MoneyGram, as an immediate sign that the request may be a scam. Funds sent via wire transfer are difficult to track once received by scammers, and are usually not recoverable by law enforcement or banking officials.
For anyone victimized by this type of “Emergency Scam,” the BBB recommends reporting the incident immediately to local police departments and Attorneys General offices. In the case of a request to wire money to Canada, the fraud should be reported to the CAFC by calling PhoneBusters toll-free hotline (1-888-495-8501) or filing a complaint on their website (www.phonebusters.com).