Facebook fraudsters exploit new territory

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This summer, a public education campaign was launched in Nanaimo, BC, after one local senior was defrauded of almost $7,000, another lost $3,500 and a third unwittingly gave away $24,000. The method used was the now well-known grandson scam, which first appeared in 2008.

It victimizes seniors by playing on their emotions and their concern for their grandchildren. It generally goes like this: The telephone rings and a voice, perhaps muffled or crying, says, “Hi Grandma. It’s me,” or the call may be from someone claiming to be a police officer or a lawyer. The grandmother answers using her grandchild’s name (“Is this Betty?”), offering information to the fraudster. She is told that there is an emergency, cash is needed, and it can be sent through Western Union or Money Gram. Identification is not always asked for when picking up wired money.

The story may vary: it could be a medical emergency such as an accident, or a claim of having been arrested, where cash is needed for bail. The senior is pressured to act quickly and the request is usually accompanied by a plea for the grandparent not to tell the parents to spare the “grandchild” embarrassment.

Cpl. Louis Robertson, of the RCMP’s Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, told Today’s Grandparent magazine that scammers use telephone directories, then track down the addresses of seniors’ homes. They might use social media to get more information and search engines to retrieve the names of retirement homes, and uncover lists of residents.

Depending on individual privacy settings, Facebook can provide information to fraudsters looking for names of grandparents posted on grandchildren’s Facebook profiles. It can be a source of more detailed information that may increase his credibility. For example, if the grandson plans a trip to San Francisco and shares his plans on Facebook, the fraudster may call claiming he had an accident in that city.

According to the FBI, the calls come in the middle of the night or very early in the morning, when it is easier to confuse the victim. Though it is commonly called a family scam, the caller may claim to be a close friend, a long-lost nephew or a distant family member.

There are several ways of protecting yourself. A password may be selected that only the family knows and does not share with anyone, much like a password to a banking machine or email. If a caller does not know the password, the senior can feel free to hang up on him.

Detective Mark Johnson of the Edmonton Police suggests that when you get a random call from someone who claims to be a relative, ask yourself whether that person would call you to ask for money.

  • Remember that no judge, lawyer, or police officer would ever ask for money to be sent suddenly through a wire service. Never wire money based on a request made over the telephone or in an email. Wiring money, especially overseas, is like giving cash that you can never get back.
  • Tell the caller you will call him back, and then call the relative he claims to be. If you don’t reach your relative, verify the caller’s story; is he really in a jail or hospital he claims to be in? Call the institution directly and check.
  • Above all, resist the pressure to respond immediately and never answer unsolicited emails, even to “unsubscribe.” By doing that, you are confirming to the scammer they have reached a real email address and risk being solicited again.

For more information: antifraudcentre-centreantifraude.ca

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