By Shereen Siewert

A town of Corning woman is the latest to fall victim to the so-called “grandparent scam” and was defrauded of $7,500, according to the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Department.

In grandparent scams, scammers pose as panicked grandchildren in trouble, or in this case, an attorney. Typically, scammers try calling or sending messages urging potential victims to wire money immediately. They’ll say they need cash to help with an emergency – like paying a hospital bill or needing to leave a foreign country, pulling at victims’ heartstrings so they can trick them into sending money before they realize it’s a scam.

Police say the alleged victim in this case was contacted Monday by a woman posing as her granddaughter and a man claiming to be an attorney named Mark Stevens.

The man said the granddaughter needed $7,500 bail money following an OWI crash and arrest out of state. The alleged victim sent the money overnight express.

But the next day the scammer called back, asking for another $12,800 for medical costs and settlement fees. This time the woman refused, and she eventually learned her granddaughter was fine and had never left the state.

Police say scams like this one are increasingly frequent, especially targeting the elderly. A few of the techniques fraudsters use for this scam are:

  • Wire Transfers – Scammers typically ask grandparents to send a wire transfer. With a reference number and a phony ID, they can retrieve that money anywhere. Because wiring money is like sending cash, once the grandparent sends it, they can’t get it back.
  • Social Media Reconnaissance – Scammers do their homework on your family, checking social media profiles and other online sources to learn grandchildren’s names, and sometimes even their travel plans.
  • Intimidation – Con artists use scare tactics to intimidate grandparents into paying quickly. They might imply that the grandchild is in physical danger or living in bad conditions in a jail overseas.

Last year, the Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Sentinel Network saw a significant increase in the median dollar amount that people 70 and over had said they lost to fraud.

Many victims reported mailing huge amounts of cash – an average of $9,000 – to people who pretended to be their grandchildren or other loved ones. Like the Merrill-area woman who fell victim to this scam, they sent the cash via FedEx or another overnight delivery service.

Often, scammers call late at night or early in the morning, when a target is likely to be sleepy and confused.

Police urge seniors to be aware of these types of scams and be prepared when they call. Never rush to send cash, put money on gift cards, or let scammers guess a grandchild’s name.

The AARP recommends stepping back and asking a few more questions. Ask specifics that the scammer might not know, like the name of a child’s first doll or the name of a favorite sports team.

Find additional tips, including how to safeguard your personal information, here.