Common Scams and Identity Theft
The Grandparent Scam - Don’t Let It Happen to You
You’re a grandparent, and you get a phone call or an e-mail from someone who identifies himself as your grandson. “I’ve been arrested in another country,” he says, “and need money wired quickly to pay my bail. And oh by the way, don’t tell my mom or dad because they’ll only get upset!”
This is an example of what’s come to be known as “the grandparent scam”—yet another fraud that preys on the elderly, this time by taking advantage of their love and concern for their grandchildren.
The grandparent scam has been around for a few years—our Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) has been receiving reports about it since 2008. But the scam and scam artists have become more sophisticated. Thanks to the Internet and social networking sites, a criminal can sometimes uncover personal information about their targets, which makes the impersonations more believable. For example, the actual grandson may mention on his social networking site that he’s a photographer who often travels to Mexico. When contacting the grandparents, the phony grandson will say he’s calling from Mexico, where someone stole his camera equipment and passport.
Common scenarios include:
A grandparent receives a phone call (or sometimes an e-mail) from a “grandchild.” If it is a phone call, it’s often late at night or early in the morning when most people aren’t thinking that clearly. Usually, the person claims to be traveling in a foreign country and has gotten into a bad situation, like being arrested for drugs, getting in a car accident, or being mugged…and needs money wired ASAP. And the caller doesn’t want his or her parents told.
Sometimes, instead of the “grandchild” making the phone call, the criminal pretends to be an arresting police officer, a lawyer, a doctor at a hospital, or some other person. And we’ve also received complaints about the phony grandchild talking first and then handing the phone over to an accomplice…to further spin the fake tale.
We’ve also seen military families victimized: after perusing a soldier’s social networking site, a con artist will contact the soldier’s grandparents, sometimes claiming that a problem came up during military leave that requires money to address.
While it’s commonly called the grandparent scam, criminals may also claim to be a family friend, a niece or nephew, or another family member.
What to do if you have been scammed. The financial losses in these cases—while they can be substantial for an individual, usually several thousand dollars per victim—typically don’t meet the FBI’s financial thresholds for opening an investigation. We recommend contacting your local authorities or state consumer protection agency if you think you’ve been victimized. We also suggest you file a complaint with IC3, which not only forwards complaints to the appropriate agencies, but also collates and analyzes the data—looking for common threads that link complaints and help identify the culprits.
And, our advice to avoid being victimized in the first place:
Resist the pressure to act quickly.
Try to contact your grandchild or another family member to determine whether or not the call is legitimate.
Never wire money based on a request made over the phone or in an e-mail...especially overseas. Wiring money is like giving cash—once you send it, you can’t get it back.
Be suspicious of doctors, health care providers, or suppliers who:
- Ask for your Medicare number:
- In exchange for free equipment or services
- For “record keeping purposes”
- Tell you that tests become cheaper as more of them are provided
- Advertise “free” consultations to people with Medicare
- Call or visit you and say they represent Medicare or the federal government
- Use telephone or door-to-door selling techniques
- Use pressure or scare tactics to sell you expensive medical services or diagnostic tests
- Bill Medicare for services you never received or a diagnosis you do not have
- Offer non-medical transportation or housekeeping as Medicare-approved services
- Bill home health services for patients who are not confined to their home, or for patients who still drive a car
- Bill Medicare for medical equipment for people in nursing homes
- Bill Medicare for tests you received as a hospital inpatient or within 72 hours of admission or discharge
- Bill Medicare for a power wheelchair or scooter when you don’t meet Medicare’s qualifications
Identity theft happens when someone uses your personal information without your consent to commit fraud or other crimes. Personal information includes your name, Social Security, Medicare, or credit card numbers.
The crime takes many forms. Identity thieves may rent an apartment, obtain a credit card, or establish a telephone account in your name. You may not find out about the theft until you review your credit report or a credit card statement and notice charges you didn’t make—or until you’re contacted by a debt collector.
Identity theft is serious. While some identity theft victims can resolve their problems quickly, others spend hundreds of dollars and many days repairing damage to their good name and credit record.
Protect yourself. Keep your personal information safe. Don’t give your information out over the Internet, or to anyone who comes to your home (or calls you) uninvited. Give personal information only to doctors or other Medicare approved providers.
To see if a provider is Medicare approved, call:
- 800-MEDICARE (800-633-4227)
- 877-486-2048 (TTY users)