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To the elderly: Here’s how to steer clear of the ‘Grandparent Scam’ and other cons

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot
Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot
Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot

Attorney General Paula T. Dow, working with the State Division of Consumer Affairs and the Consumer Federation of America, wants to make more people nationwide aware of the “Grandparent Scam” and other tricks that separate the elderly from what is sometimes their life savings.

MORE INFO : NJ Division of Consumer Affairs

No matter how many stories are written or broadcast, some unsuspecting elderly person reacts to a scammer’s call by wiring money to help a grandchild purportedly in trouble.

So the Consumer Affairs Division has lauched a program called FedUp (Senior Fraud Education & Protection Program) and an instructional video created for consumers was shown for the first time this morning at the Home Sweet Home Adult Medical Daycare center in Elizabeth.

In 2010, the Federal Trade Commission received more than 60,000 complaints nationwide, and 1,549 in New Jersey, about the Grandparent Scam and related “impostor scams.” The State Division of Consumer Affairs noted that the average New Jersey victim who reported the Grandparent Scam lost $3,500.  Most of the thieves claimed to be calling from Canada – specifically Montreal, Toronto, Ontario or Vancouver – or England.

“Scams in which criminals prey on senior citizens, manipulating their fears and stealing their savings, are among the most malicious in our society,” Dow said today.

Joining her and other officials were a couple from Wayne who nearly fell victim to one of the scams.

On Feb. 15 they got a call from a boy who sounded “remarkably” like their grandson saying he was in a Canada jail following a car crash in which his nose was broken. He needed $2,800 in bail money.

What frightened the couple most was that the caller had specific family details — apparently gleaned from social networking pages.

They were ready to send the money, they said, when family members interceded.

NJ’s Division of Consumer Affairs & the Consumer Federation of America unveiled a new tip sheet today :

* ALWAYS check with a family member to find out whether the emergency caller really needs help;

* NEVER wire money without independently making sure the story is true; even if it is the truth, that extra time won’t hurt. If it’s not, you’ve saved yourself from a huge loss;

* Take the time NOW for a family discussion about this and similar scams. Consider creating a code word or phrase – one only you all would know – in case you get or have to make an emergency call.

OR CALL : 1-800-242-5846 (toll free within New Jersey) or 973-504-6200.


“The Division of Consumer Affairs is committed to protecting our senior citizens from those criminals who view seniors as easy marks, who aim to prey on their generosity and kindness, who seek to profit from a grandparent’s anguish,” said Thomas R. Calcagni, Acting Director of the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs.  “We are warning all of New Jersey’s seniors and their loved ones to be wary and watchful of these scams.”

Susan Grant, the director of Consumer Protection at the Consumer Federation of America, said she hopes the video and new tips published here and elsewhere “help consumers in New Jersey and across the country avoid being tricked out of their money.”

* Scammers typically ask the victim to send funds via a money order or Western Union. Once you’ve done that, it’s gone for good — and, usually, so are they.

* Scammers often use marketing lists, with names and phone numbers or email addresses, to target victims.

* Some scammers will tell their story using specific details, such as the names of the grandchild’s relatives or friends. Victims make the information easy to find by posting it all over Facebook and other social networking sites without using the necessary controls to keep such data private.

* Some scammers hack into email accounts, then send emergency emails to friends.

* Scammers who call typically try to prevent any verification. “Don’t tell mom,” they’ll say. Or something that urges the intended victim to act immediately.

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