The phone rang in an East Boston home recently and the elderly resident got some devastating news — his nephew had been drinking and hit a pregnant woman with his car and was arrested. All it would take was $7,500 and his nephew would be released, he was told.
The man gathered the money, hid it between the pages of a magazine and sent them in an envelope labeled “leave at the door” to an address in Reading, Penn., as the caller instructed him in the mid-day phone call Tuesday.
He then called his nephew to see if he could reach him and did; his nephew was fine and had just gotten out of work.
This alleged scammer wasn’t careful, though. Local authorities shared the address the senior sent the money to with Reading police, who moseyed on over and recovered the money and found a person of interest.
It’s a happy outcome to a story that doesn’t have money, as many victims never recoup their money, according to the Boston Police Department.
Phone scams like this cost elderly victims billions of dollars every year, according to the Boston-based National Consumer Law Center.
Confidence fraud scams “accounted for the highest losses reported by the elderly in 2020 with more than $280 million in complaints,” according to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, or IC3.
The East Boston incident appears to be a variant of the “Grandparent” fraud scheme that the IC3 states made up 650 of the complaints it received from January to June of last year, which racked up $13 million in losses.
It’s the common “Fake Accident Ploy” variant to the “Grandparent Scam,” as the Massachusetts Secretary of State’s office calls it. In these, “a grandparent receives a phone call late at night from a scam artist claiming to be one of his or her grandchildren.
“The phony grandchild is in a panic, saying that it’s an emergency situation and he/she needs money immediately. The sense of urgency that the scam artist creates (makes) concerned grandparents act quickly, without verifying who is calling,” the SoS’s report continues.
The fastest growing scam in the age of the internet and social media, however, is the online romance scam, which the Federal Trade Commission reported cost victims a record-setting $304 million in 2020, or up about 50% from the previous year — a loss of about $2,500 per victim. Bay Staters lost $21 million to the scam in 2021, the Herald has reported.
The tips and tricks to avoid being scammed listed by all of these agencies are topped by being careful and not letting your emotions take control. For one, be careful about what you post on social media because scammers can use information they find on their victims there to make more plausible or tailored scams.
Take a breath and think for a second. A few minutes spent questioning the veracity of the caller’s claim shouldn’t actually have that great of an effect on your family member’s situation and it’s better to be safe than sorry.
If you feel you have been scammed, write down the phone number or other identifier, like a website, email address or postal address, and take immediate action. The FTC has a hotline at 1-877-FTC-HELP (382-4357) and also a report website at consumer.ftc.gov/scam-alerts. The Department of Justice also has a National Elder Fraud Hotline at 1-833-Fraud-11 (372-8311).