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Grandparent scam on rise; know the red flags

Seniors are often a top target for scammers, so it's important they know how to identify signs of potential scams. Chief among these fraudulent schemes is the grandparent scam, wherein phone calls or e-mails attempt to fool seniors into thinking their grandchild (or a loved one) is hurt, or arrested and stranded in a foreign country, and in desperate need of money. The Better Business Bureau (BBB) of Minnesota and North Dakota provides some pointers on how to spot and avoid this scam.

The grandparent scam has been around since 2008, but there has been a surge recently. Retirees are an attractive target for financial scammers. Schemes like this one play off of people's emotions and strong desire to help loved ones in need.

Scammers impersonate their victims and make up an urgent scenario - "I've been arrested," "I've been mugged," "I'm in the hospital" - and target friends and family with urgent pleas for immediate financial assistance.

The BBB offers the following tips to avoid the grandparent scam:

Communicate. People should share travel plans with family members before leaving the state or country.

Share information. Contact information, such as cell phone number and e-mail address of a travel companion, should be shared in the case of an emergency. Family members should remind students to be cautious when sharing details about travel plans via their social media accounts.

Know the red flags. Typically, the grandparent receives a frantic phone call from a scammer posing as their grandchild. The "grandchild" explains that he or she has gotten into trouble and needs help. In many cases, an alleged car accident is involved or a wrongful arrest for drug possession.

The "grandchild" pleads with the grandparents not to tell his or her parents and asks that they wire thousands of dollars for reasons such as posting bail, repairing the car, covering lawyer's fees or even paying hospital bills for a person the grandchild injured in the accident.

Ask a personal question, but don't disclose too much information. If a grandparent receives a call from someone claiming to be their grandchild in distress, the BBB advises that the grandparents not disclose any information before confirming that it really is their grandchild. If a caller says, "It's me, Grandma," don't respond with a name. Instead, let the caller explain who he or she is. One easy way to confirm their identity is to ask a question that only the grandchild would know, a unique detail of a shared experience or memory.

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