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Attorney General Stein’s September column: Protect your loved ones from grandparent scams

Attorney General Josh Stein
September 2021

Over the past year and a half of this pandemic, we’ve all been more worried than ever about our loved ones’ health and safety. Unfortunately, at the same time, scammers are looking for ways to take our money. These criminals exploit fake familial bonds by tricking our grandparents and elderly loved ones. This year alone, North Carolinians have reported losing more than $150,000 to grandparent scams, and we know that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Here’s what you need to know about grandparent scams, and how to help your loved ones avoid them.

Scammers will often start out by learning some information about the grandchild or person they’re going to pretend to be. They do that by scouring social media and finding basic details about their life online – where they work, where they live, and how they spend their time. This is a good reminder to check your social media presence and make sure your security settings are updated to prevent strangers from accessing too much information about you.

Armed with information, scammers will call grandparents or elderly loved ones and pretend to be the young relative who needs help. They might claim they’re in trouble with the law, in jail, or have been injured or kidnapped. This might seem particularly believable in a pandemic, when we’re far away from our family members and there’s a higher general risk of their being ill. These impersonators will claim they need money to resolve their troubles.

Here are a few tips to help you avoid falling victim to these scams.

First, avoid answering phone calls from numbers or email addresses you don’t recognize. If you do end up answering a call, don’t divulge information about yourself or your family that will give the scammer more ammunition to use against you.

Second, remember to be skeptical when people contact you and ask us for money, regardless of who they say they are or the reason.

Third, don’t wire or send money in response to a phone call, email, or online message. If they’re asking for money through prepaid gift cards – it’s definitely a scam and you should hang up and report it to our office. Once a scammer has your money, it’s almost impossible to get back.

Finally, be careful about acting on your emotions or while you’re panicked. Take a pause to try to evaluate the situation. Try to contact your loved one directly using a number you know is theirs to verify whether they’re in trouble or reach out to another family member to get their advice. You can also contact our office if you’re not sure whether a call is legitimate.

Our grandparents and family members love us, and they are desperate to keep us safe. But scammers can exploit their love to try to get our loved ones’ hard-earned money. The more prepared people we care about are to recognize the signs of a scam, the less likely they’ll be to lose their money. If you have questions or think you or a loved one might have been a victim of a grandparent scam, file a complaint with our office at 1-877-5-NO-SCAM or file a consumer complaint online.

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