Attorney General’s office sees rise in “Grandma Scams”

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(Host) Doting grandmothers are among the latest victims to be targeted by telemarketing and Internet scam artists.

In Vermont, the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Unit has dealt with a number of complaints involving so-called Grandma Scams

The losses from these types of fraud can be significant, as VPR’s Susan Keese reports.

(Keese) Phyllis Holden is in her 80s and lives with her husband in Chittenden County. They’ve never had a lot of money. But now they have less, thanks to a phone call from someone Holden thought was her 24-year-old grandson.

(Holden) “And he said he was in Canada. He’d rented a rental car and he’d had an accident and totaled it and didn’t have any insurance. So then he said he needed $4,500.  So we went to the bank and got $4,500. And he said it had to be sent from Wal-Mart.”

(Keese) In a quick succession of calls and money transfers Holden sent almost $20,000. Her so-called grandson pleaded with her not to tell his parents.

(Holden) “And all I could think of was him being stuck in Canada. They had his passport and they wouldn’t let him out and of course I absolutely adore my grandson and he was very upset. He kept saying I love you Grandma, thank you Grandma. And I just didn’t think.”

(Keese) When Holden called her real grandson a few days later, she learned that he hadn’t been in Canada.

Vermont Assistant Attorney General Elliot Burg works in the State’s Consumer Protection Unit. He says money that’s wired is almost impossible to retrieve or trace once it’s been picked up.

Burg says scams like these are increasingly the work of international crime networks using sophisticated tools and psychology to separate people from their money.

He says people shouldn’t flatter themselves that they’re too savvy to be fooled.

(Burg) “There is a common stereotype of the consumer fraud victim as someone who is elderly, socially isolated, poorly educated. I think that stereotype is simply not true. The research shows that people of all ages and all backgrounds, some highly educated, fall prey to these consumer scams.”

(Keese) Burg says some people are unaware that deductions are being made from their bank accounts, because they’ve carelessly given out checking information.

Burg says it’s best to assume that unsolicited offers of easy money are fraudulent. He advises against giving out any personal information in an unsolicited e-mail or call. And if someone calls claiming to be a relative in need of money- double-check their story.

For VPR News, I’m Susan Keese.

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