COLUMBUS — Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine warns of phone scams targeting Ohio grandparents, following an increase in complaints.
In the past month, 11 Ohioans have reported losing an average of $3,800 to the “grandparent scam.” Most said they paid over the phone using iTunes gift cards after receiving a call saying their grandchild was in trouble.
One man received a call from someone who claimed to be his granddaughter. The granddaughter supposedly was in jail and needed $2,000 in iTunes cards to be released. After the man paid, he realized it was a scam.
“Many grandparents will drop everything to help their grandchildren,” DeWine said. “That’s why this scam works. It’s terrible not only because of the money loss but because of the fear it instills in people. Our goal is to protect Ohio’s families and help them recognize the warning signs of a scam before it’s too late.”
Since the start of 2016, the Ohio Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Section has received about two dozen consumer complaints involving grandparent scams.
The scam often begins with a phone call telling grandparents that one of their grandchildren has been in a car accident, caught with drugs, or put in jail.
The caller pretends to be the grandchild, an attorney, or a law enforcement officer and tells the grandparent to send money to have the charges dismissed, to cover court costs, or to allow the grandchild to return home.
The grandparent is told to go to the store right away, to buy several gift cards, and to read the card numbers over the phone. Using this information, the scammer drains the cards’ funds almost instantly.
As part of the scheme, grandparents often are instructed not to talk to other people (such as the grandchild’s parents) about the problem. Callers may even threaten to shoot or harm the grandchild if the grandparent refuses to pay.
If grandparents pay once, they likely will receive additional calls seeking more money, supposedly for attorney’s fees or other unexpected costs. Eventually, grandparents discover that their grandchild was not truly in trouble.
DeWine encouraged consumers to take the following steps to protect against grandparent scams:
• Communicate with your family members. Talk to your family about scams and discuss how you would communicate during a true emergency. If you receive a call from a grandchild or another family member who claims to be in trouble, contact someone else (such as the grandchild’s parents) to determine if the person truly needs your help, even if you’ve been instructed not to contact anyone else. When in doubt, ask questions only your real family members would know how to answer, such as the last time you saw each other.
• Limit the amount of information you share online. Don’t post upcoming travel plans or detailed personal information online, and encourage your family members to take similar precautions. Check your account privacy settings and limit who can view your information. Be aware that scammers may use information posted on social media or publicly available online to learn more about their targets and to make their ploys seem believable.
• Be wary of unusual payment requests. If a caller demands that you pay over the phone using a gift card or a prepaid reloadable card, it’s likely a scam. Also be wary of requests for payment via wire transfer. These are preferred payment methods for scammers because it is difficult to trace or recover the payment once it is provided.
The Ohio Attorney General’s Office warns consumers about scams and offers a variety of educational materials, including a phone scams checklist.
To learn more or to report scams to the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, visit www.OhioProtects.org or call 800-282-0515.