Police warn about ever-popular grandparent scam in the Valley

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Multiple police departments across the Shenandoah Valley are warning about the return of an ever-popular scam that preys on the elderly.

It's commonly called the "grandparent scam" and combines features of a number of common scams to con a grandparent who just wants to help out of lots of money.

Just this last December, a Rockingham County woman nearly lost thousands of dollars to the scam.

Scammers call potential victims pretending to be a loved one - most often a grandchild - in serious trouble. That trouble could be a car broken down, a lost wallet, or in need of a jail bond.

Usually, the scammer will have done some research and have the correct name of the loved one and prey on emotions by sounding as desperate as possible. Sometimes, they'll have an accomplice to put on the phone pretending to be a lawyer, police officer, or doctor to enhance the ruse.

The goal is ultimately to convince the elderly person to send money, and the scammer will provide detailed instructions on how to do this, such as using gift cards which are difficult or impossible to refund.

Normally, the request is for several thousand dollars.

Here's what police advise you to do to avoid this kind of scam and help others:

• Ask lots of questions. If you get an impassioned call for money from a family member, take a deep breath and try not to get emotional. Instead, ask some questions that would be hard for an impostor to answer correctly. Examples are the name of the person's pet, his mother's birth date, or his boss's name.
• Slow the process down. Never say yes to a money transfer based on a single call. Always hang up and do some research, such as trying to contact the person directly on her cell or work phone, or talking with someone she is close with to corroborate the situation.
• Don't be embarrassed. If you fear that you have fallen prey to a scam, do not let pride get in the way of contacting authorities. And if you've wired money, immediately call the money transfer service to report the fraud. If the money hasn't been picked up yet, you can retrieve it.

In 2016, the elderly were exploited for $28.2 million in Virginia - by far the largest amount of any age group - and many experts say that estimate is nowhere close to the actual number, because only 1 in 44 cases are reported to officials.