Social Media Makes Scammers More Believable

Social media has made it easy to discover personal details to add credibility to the scheme. Take the Grandparent Scam, for example.

The Grandparent scam goes something like this.

Telephone call or e-mail:

“Grandma, it’s me Mikey. I’ve been arrested on bogus drug charges during spring break in Mexico. I need money quick. Could you wire me some? A few thousand should do it. And, please don’t tell mom and dad. They’ll kill me.”

The caller has an urgent tone. Sometimes the phone is handed over to a scammer who impersonates a police officer. The calls persist, often late at night or early in the morning to catch the victims’ off-guard. Once money is wired, demands intensify.

First reported in 2008, the Grandparent Scam has become increasingly sophisticated and effective at duping retirees.

Here’s why.

Nestled in the lies are typically some elements of truth.

Mikey is the victim’s grandmother. At the time of the call, he just so happens to be on spring break in Cancun. And, yes, his parents would kill him if they found out he was arrested for using drugs!

Scam artists can hop on the Internet and social media sites to gather intelligence about potential targets. They can find young adults who are vacationing, studying abroad, or on assignments in foreign countries. They can also find out the identities and locations of concerned adults to victimize. The scammers know where their victims’ family members are staying, with whom and for how long. All these details can easily be dropped into a script.

By adding personal details that ring true to the victims’ ears, scam artists become more persuasive and cheat Americans out of more money.

Last year, in New York alone, seniors were cheated out of nearly $450,000 in Grandparent Scams. Individual victims usually suffer losses that amount to thousands of dollars, but typically falls below the FBI threshold for investigation.

Earlier this week, the FBI issued a warning about this scam. Details and reported scenarios are outlined, and the FBI provides guidance as to what to do if you receive one of these phone calls or e-mails. For more information, visit

Bottom line: never wire money based on a telephone call or e-mail and institute privacy controls on your social networking sites.

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