The scam goes like this: An elderly woman gets a call from someone claiming to be her grandson and says he got into some trouble and needs money wired to him in order to get out of a jam. Out of love and concern for her grandson, the woman transfers money -- sometimes thousands of dollars -- to a foreign country, but the recipient is not her grandson; it's a con-artist.
Don't let your loved one be the next victim in this increasingly widespread scam, which has been surfacing in our area in recent months. Know the facts to protect yourself and your family from scammers looking to make a quick buck off of caring grandparents and senior citizens.
Recently, I read several stories in local newspapers about good people in my district and throughout Connecticut losing hundreds -- sometimes thousands -- of dollars in these kinds of deceptive wire-money scams. I was so alarmed by the stories that I gathered authorities from the Norwalk police department, the Better Business Bureau of Connecticut and the Southwestern Connecticut Area Agency on Aging to get the word out about these scams and to provide tips for how to protect yourself from wily con-artists. Mayor Richard Moccia also joined us at the Norwalk Senior Center to raise awareness about the issue earlier this month.
Knowledge is power and the best way to avoid becoming a victim is to be informed and know the warning signs of a scam. Norwalk Police Det. William Maloney had some sage advice on the subject. He encouraged people to reach out to another family member to validate a story before sending out any money. Second, Det. Maloney pointed out that wiring money is never an ideal way to transfer money.
The Better Business Bureau has some additional advice for this particular scam. Anyone receiving a call from a purported family member requesting a money transfer should ask for the person's name and other identifying details. They should ask for a phone number and, like Det. Maloney suggested, check with family members to verify the story.
In an era dominated by the Internet and ever-expanding social media networks, it can be easy to forget that our personal information and names of friends and family members is accessible by con-artists searching the Web for their next victim.
These predatory scams are all too common and they come in many shapes and sizes. A great consumer protection resource, the BBB lists a number of scams that people should watch out for. For example, a potential victim might receive a phone call, e-mail or letter in the mail asking for personal information and social security numbers in return for lottery or sweepstakes money.
Sometimes a scammer says he or she is with Medicare and need credit card or bank account information to fix an error. Be aware of bereavement scams in which a widow or widower is told their spouse had outstanding debts that must be repaid, as well as phony investment and "work-at-home" opportunities. The key is to research any suspicious-sounding request for money, verify with family and/or the authorities and fall back onto the old adage, "If it sounds to good to be true, it probably is."