The Better Business bureau reports a new twist on the Grandparent Scam that involves the caller already knowing detailed information about the family it is trying to defraud.
At least six complaints from consumers in California's Central Valley victims have been received in the last two weeks.
The original scam generally worked like this -- the grandparent receives a distressed phone call from who they believe is their grandchild. The supposed grandchild typically explains that they are travelling in Canada and have been arrested or involved in an auto accident and need the grandparent to wire money to post bail or pay for damages — usually amounting to a few thousand dollars.
The scammers’ basic tactic is to pose as a grandchild and let the unsuspecting grandparent fill in the blanks. For example, the scam caller might say, “It’s me, your favorite grandchild,” to which the grandparent will guess the name of the grandchild it sounds the most like, and then the call proceeds from there.
In the updated scam, callers identify themselves by name as a particular family member. They say they are being held in jail in Mexico and they need bail money wired immediately. They lace their conversation with correct references by name to other family members, increasing their credibility. One caller even knew that the real person being impersonated had a twin who was born two minutes later.
Law enforcement officials contacted by the BBB are not certain how perpetrators are obtaining the inside knowledge or phone numbers for victims.
Victims should file a complaint with the FBI. Northern Valley residents should contact Herbert Brown, Special Agent in Charge, in Sacramento at 916-481-9110. Southern Valley victims should contact Steven Martinez, Los Angeles FBI Assistant Director in Charge, at 310-477-6565.
To protect themselves from this scam, and other scams that may use a distressed loved-one tactic, BBB is advising people to remain calm and confirm the status of the individual by calling them back directly or verifying the story with other family members before taking any further action.
Developing a secret code that is known only within the family is also recommended.
The BBB also encourages people to limit the amount of personal information shared on social media sites and to only “friend” people they personally know themselves.