Published On: Fri, Nov 15th, 2013

Attorney General Morrisey warns senior citizens to avoid scammers who call posing as grandchild in distress

Morrisey said scammers use the Internet and social media sites to take advantage of senior citizens and prey on their concern for a loved one.

Attorney Patrick Morrisey this week reminded citizens to be on guard when receiving phone calls from people claiming to be a family member who has been arrested or is in the hospital.

“Scammers will stop at nothing when trying to separate you from your money, even stooping so low as posing as a grandchild who is in trouble and needs bail money,” Attorney General Morrisey said. “A number of senior citizens in the state have received these types of calls, and many have wired money thinking they were helping their loved one.”

The scam typically begins with a frantic phone call from someone posing as a grandchild or someone in law enforcement who is calling on behalf of the grandchild. The caller then says the family member has been involved in some type of trouble while traveling outside of the country and needs hundreds or thousands of dollars wired immediately to pay for medical treatment, car repairs or to post bail.  Sometimes the scammers call twice in a short time – first as the grandchild in distress and then either as a law enforcement officer, medical provider or family friend. Sometimes the second caller says the amount quoted earlier was too low and asks for more money.

“These scams prey on the love elderly West Virginians have for their family, and our willingness to do anything we can to help a loved one in distress,” Morrisey said. “But people need to remember that wiring money is the same as sending cash, and consumers have very little protections if they wire money to an individual. Typically you cannot reverse the transaction once it is made, nor can you trace the money or recover it from a con artist.”

To avoid being scammed, Morrisey recommended that consumers take the following precautions:

• Get contact information from the caller, including a name and a way to call him or her back.

• Call the normal number for the loved one who is supposedly in trouble to see if they answer, or other family members to find out where he or she is.

• Never give bank routing numbers or credit card numbers to someone calling you over the phone or reaching out to you via email.

• Do not wire money unless you have verified with a third party that the child really is in trouble. Call the hospital or jail using a number you located yourself to verify your loved one’s status.

• Stay calm and don’t act out of a sense of urgency.

“The Internet is an amazing resource, but it also provides would-be scammers with a wealth of information about people, including phone numbers, family members and relationships,” Morrisey said. “Never post on any social media site when you or your loved ones will be on vacation, and always be suspicious if a grandchild calls from a far location and doesn’t identify themselves by name or uses the wrong name for you, such as grandma instead of ‘granny’ or ‘mammaw’.”

Morrisey said scammers sometimes randomly dial people until they reach a senior citizen and then let the senior “fill in the blanks” by voluntarily saying the grandchild’s name.

“It is unfortunate that we live in a time when scammers will stop at nothing to try to take advantage of others, but we all can protect ourselves by being savvy to the tricks they use,” Morrisey said.

If you believe you have been scammed in this way, call the West Virginia Attorney General’s Office Consumer Protection Division at 1-800-368-8808 and file a report. You also should contact the money transfer company immediately to report the fraud and file a complaint. You can reach the complaint department of MoneyGram at 1-800-MONEYGRAM (1-800-666-3947) or Western Union at 1-800-448-1492.

Consumers also should file a complaint with their local police department and report the scam to the Federal Trade Commission at www.ftc.gov or by calling toll-free 1-877-FTC-HELP.