Don’t Be Fooled by Family Emergency Grandparent Scam

January 18, 2017, 1:44 pm | Carol Ehlers

AMES, Iowa -- A Northwest Iowa grandmother recently received a disturbing phone call.

“The caller told her, ‘You don’t know me, but your granddaughter is in jail in Michigan and needs money wired immediately,” noted Carol Ehlers, a human sciences specialist in family finance with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.

Woman on Phone“The caller also said, ‘I’m calling from a pay phone and you can’t call back.’ The grandmother identified this as a scam, didn’t send the money and hung up!” Ehlers said.

According to Ehlers, recent Iowa police department and Federal Trade Commission reports indicate scammers are posing as relatives or friends, calling or sending messages to urge people to wire money immediately.

“They’ll request cash to help with an emergency — like getting out of jail, paying a hospital bill or needing to leave a foreign country. Their goal is to trick you into sending money before you realize it’s a scam,” Ehlers explained.

Ehlers recommends following the steps recommended by the FTC if someone calls or sends a message claiming to be a family member or a friend desperate for money:

  • Resist the urge to act immediately, no matter how dramatic the story is.
  • Verify the person’s identity by asking questions that a stranger couldn’t possibly answer.
  • Call a phone number for your family member or friend that you know to be genuine.
  • Check the story out with your family or circle of friends, even if you’ve been told to keep it a secret.
  • Don’t wire money and don’t send a check or money order by overnight delivery or courier.
  • Report possible fraud by calling 1-877-FTC-HELP.

According to Ehlers, “This scam highlights the dangers of wiring money, or providing prepaid money card numbers or bank account information to strangers by telephone.” The Iowa Attorney General indicates that these types of transactions, which generally transfer funds abroad, often are nearly impossible to trace.

The Iowa Attorney General requests that victims contact the local law enforcement agency and file a report. Because it generally originates from overseas, the grandparent scam can be difficult, if not impossible, to successfully investigate and recover lost funds.

Contact Office of the Attorney General of Iowa, Consumer Protection Division at or 515-281-5926, (888-777-4590 outside of the Des Moines metro area).

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