FTC: Americans lost $41 million in grandparents scam this year

NEW YORK — The government is releasing new information about a growing scam targeting older Americans. It tricks people into mailing cash to people pretending to be their grandchildren. Victims reportedly lose an average of $9,000. The Federal Trade Commission says Americans lost up to $41 million in the scam this year, nearly twice as much as last year.

Many of them, like retired Tennessean Franc Stratton, said they used to believe they would never fall for it.

Stratton spent his career working in intelligence – first for the Air Force and then later as a cyber security programmer.
But his expertise still didn’t prepare him for the scam that began with a morning phone call in April.

“I hear, ‘Don’t be afraid, but I’m the public defender from Austin, Texas. They have put your grandson in jail after a wreck, and he has a DUI offense.'”

The man said Stratton could bail out his grandson if he sent $8,500 cash via FedEx. While that might sound ridiculous, it’s something that Stratton has done just once in the past.  Not only that, but the “attorney” briefly put a man he claimed was Stratton’s grandson on the phone.

Stratton drove to the bank.

“I wrote a check out, and they gave me $8,500 cash in hundreds.”

Then went to a local mail location to overnight the money to an Austin, Texas address.

How did he fall for it?

“Well, it’s because of the way that they scripted it,” explained Stratton. “They had it so well scripted. They knew everything about my grandson. They knew everything about me.”

“Scammers are successful at getting people to send large amounts of money because grandparents really care about their grandchildren,” said Monica Vaca with the Federal Trade Commission. “The grandchildren sound like they’re in terrible distress they’re crying.”

The FTC said the criminals also do their research. They use social media and other available resources to learn more about their targets.

Back in Tennessee that night in April, Stratton said something finally clicked.

“My wife and I looked at each other and said, ‘Scam.'”

So he called FedEx to return the package. While he got his money back, Stratton said he’s frustrated at himself for almost falling for it, all for love.

The FTC said is you get a call like this, get in touch with that family member before sending anything and be careful about what you post on social media.

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