Michigan AG warns against new spin on grandparent, family emergency scam

When you know what to look for the scams are easier to spot
Published: Apr. 19, 2021 at 5:50 PM EDT
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LANSING, Mich. (WILX) - Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel has warned Michiganders to be on alert for grandparent and family emergency scams in the past, but her office now says a different variation of this scam has turned up.

The Attorney General’s Office says that in a period of five days, two mid-Michigan mothers received calls from purported kidnappers demanding a ransom for their daughters’ return. In each instance, the caller knew the daughter’s name and demanded payment by wire. Both were scams.

While there are lots of variations of the scam, they are alike in their tactics. A person claiming to be a relative says they are in a bad situation, and asks for money to get out of it.

An earlier version of the scam resulted in a pair of grandparents being tricked out of $33,000. They wire transferred $3,000 to someone they thought was their grandson after he called and claimed he was caught fishing without a license in Canada and needed to pay a $3,000 fine. They were taken for an additional $30,000 after the supposed grandson called again to say that alcohol and drugs were found when his boat was searched, and he needed $30,000 to post bond to get out of a Canadian jail.

“Bad actors will stop at nothing to get your money or personal information – that includes exploiting your love and concern for your family members,” Nessel said. “My office is committed to ensuring Michiganders are protected from these con artists and that they are aware of best practices to avoid these scams.”

When you know what to look for the scams are easier to spot. Be suspicious when you receive a telephone call where a child or grandchild calls you from a far away location claiming to be in some type of trouble. Be especially wary if the grandchild says, “It’s me,” or “It’s your grandson,” or “It’s your favorite grandchild,” as this is a common tactic for getting around knowing the right name. Finally, it should be a big red flag if the caller asks for money to be wire transferred.

If you do receive such a call, the Attorney General’s Office advises you verify the identity and location of the child or grandchild claiming to be in trouble, then hang up. Call another family member who can confirm your child or grandchild’s whereabouts. Try calling them at the telephone number through which you normally reach them. Stay calm and avoid acting out of a sense of urgency.

Do not wire money unless you have verified with an independent third party that your child or grandchild is truly in trouble. In addition, never give out any personal identifying information such as bank account or credit card numbers to anyone who calls you on the phone.

Remember, most of these scams rely on first convincing the victim that there is a sense of urgency, because if the victim has time to stop and think they may start to realize that the story doesn’t add up. The callers are often professional criminals who are skillfully able to get people to wire money or give personal information before they have time to properly assess the situation.

If you’ve wired money to a scam artist, call the money transfer company immediately to report the fraud and file a complaint. You can reach the complaint department of MoneyGram at 800-MONEYGRAM (800-666-3947) or Western Union at 800-448-1492.

Then, file complaint with your local police department and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).  Visit the FTC’s website, or call toll-free, 877-FTC-HELP (877-382-4357); TTY: 866-653-4261.

In addition, if the request for money involved a wire transfer to Canada, Canadian officials in the Anti-Fraud Call Center ask victims to report the fraud at their PhoneBusters hotline at 888-495-8501 or on their PhoneBuster’s website.

Copyright 2021 WILX. All rights reserved.

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