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Grandparent scams spike for spring break

Callers target seniors, ask for money to be wired overseas

MADISON, Wis. - Sitting in a booth, ready for her Tuesday night dinner tradition at Avenue Bar, Amy didn't want to share her last name. What she was willing to share is her story, and that might explain why she was hesitant to divulge too much information.

"They just pick a name out of a phone book that's an old lady," Amy said.

Amy was the victim of a telephone scam just last year.

One morning, she answered the phone to hear someone pretending to be her oldest grandson. He claimed he was in a Central American location with a friend and had been in a car accident. The caller asked if Amy could wire money so he could leave the country and come home, but said she shouldn't do it under his name.

"That's when I really knew something was wrong. I can't send money to my grandson in his name? That's when the light really flashed red," Amy said.

He also said Amy shouldn't tell his mom and dad.

"I thought, you're not going to let your 88-year-old grandmother worry if you won't let your parents worry," Amy said. "That was my first clue."

Amy followed up the request with a number of questions, quizzing the man on his father's name and hometown. When he didn't know the answers, she told him to call back when and if he wasn't too upset to remember simple facts about his life.

Amy never heard back from that caller again.

"Even though grandma would do it for them, grandma would do anything for them," Amy said.

With students gearing up to head for warmer weather, Kimberly Hazen with the Better Business Bureau said this is prime time for that kind of scammer to strike.

"In the past years, we have seen a small spike during the spring season, and of course, a scammer is going to take advantage of knowing that the majority of college kids are going to be on some sort of break," Hazen said.

Hazen said many of the con artists follow a similar pattern to what they did with Amy. She said the scammers typically find grandparents' phone numbers and claim to be the grandchild or an attorney or official representative of some sort.

Hazen said the caller claims the young relative is in some kind of trouble in the tropics, like being arrested or in some sort of fight. She said they find a reason to keep the situation a secret from the traveler's parents.

Hazen said the older population is the perfect target for these scammers.

"They're many times at home, so they're there when the phone rings," Hazen said. "They're super friendly. It's a very polite demographic, so they want to help, especially when it's someone in the family."

Hazen said these criminals are not easy to catch, but anyone on the receiving end of one of these calls should file a police report.

Hazen also recommended asking questions only your relative would know.

"Be skeptical, you know," Hazen said. "If it is indeed your grandson, he's going to have the answers. He's going to really be wanting you to help him, you know. But scammers are going to be very quick and right ahead of us. They like to have the answers that you're willing to hear, so you really have to be asking the tough questions."

She said any college kids heading out of the country for spring break should limit their posts about travel plans so scammers aren't tipped off about the easiest families to target.

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