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Grandparent scam rips off Kentuckians who fear their grandchildren are in jail

Andy Beshear says the “grandparent scam” is one of the oldest in the books. “And the most publicized scam in our history,” he adds. But con artists are still able to victimize people using it every week.

That’s frustrating for Kentucky’s attorney general, who opened up the Office of Senior Protection and Mediation his first day on the job in 2016.

Recently, three grandparents were taken for nearly $18,000, with six people reporting to have received calls in Boyle, Butler, Fayette, Jefferson, Meade and Pulaski counties.

The stories are all the same: A grandparent gets a call claiming to be from their grandchild jailed out-of-state, injured after being involved in a DUI incident. Then, a second person joins the call, impersonating an attorney or officer and requesting they send cash or wire money to bail them out of jail.

The “fake grandchild” even persists in getting the grandparent’s vow of secrecy. 

Beshear says the fact this age-old racket is still able pull in victims is an example of exactly what scams do — “They prey on our fears, on the love we have for our family, in an attempt to get us either so scared or so excited, we start thinking with the back of our brains, where our emotions are, instead of the front … Despite all of our efforts, people still fall for it.”

Now, criminals are becoming far more advanced and using technology to their advantage. Not only are they able to use robo-calling to attempt 100,000 people at once — by playing the volume game and either creating their own call-lists or buying them on the “dark web” — but they research multiple social media platforms in order to find out most of what they need to know in order to manipulate someone, Beshear says.

“They know your name, where you live and about how old you are … they know your community. They’ll give you the cross street of the convenience store to ask you to go buy gift cards,” he says.

Beshear says if these criminals would put half the time they spend on these scams into something productive …

“But instead they prey on those who have done it right,” he says. “Those who have saved for retirement, and those who are raising their grandchildren due to this drug epidemic.”

Beshear says his office gets reports from those who have been scammed and from those who don’t fall for it.

“Those are very important,” he says, explaining that scam alerts can be put out notifying residents in certain areas that it’s happening.

The Office of Senior Protection and Mediation has been able to return about $1.8 million to seniors over the last two years, according to Beshear.

“We’re very proud of it,” he says, although adds they are aware much more than that has been stolen. Beshear tells stories of meeting with one person in the past who was conned out of several hundred thousand dollars.

Then there are the stories like the Elizabethtown senior citizen whom his office helped to recover $50,000 from an IRS scam. “I was so excited, I drove her that check myself.”

So far, Beshear says there are 18,000 Kentuckians signed up for the Scam Alert text system through his office. “Every time we add to that, we create a new nerve center — we sign up for scam alerts to help protect ourselves, sure. But we never know when we’ll be having a cup of coffee and help someone else protect themselves from losing their life savings and never answering the phone to that con artist again.”

Beshear says anyone who receives a call they believe is a scam should always call the AG’s office to report it. If it’s in person, Beshear says to call the local sheriff or police department, as well as the AG.

“So many of the scams come from out-of-state or overseas, to where it is really hard to chase them down, given jurisdiction,” he says. But keeping an ongoing list of scams out there can help others not be a victim.

Tips from the attorney general to detect/avoid the “grandparent” scam:

• Never trust anyone who randomly calls and asks you to send money via wire transfer, gift cards, cash or other hard to trace methods of payment.

• Ask the caller questions that only the real grandchild could answer correctly.

• Ask the caller to confirm what state and county jail they are being held in and independently contact the jail to confirm.

• Try to call the real grandchild to verify, or call a related family member at a known phone number to confirm the grandchild is traveling.

SO YOU KNOW

• Kentucky Attorney Andy Beshear asks anyone with any information about the grandparent scam to report it to the AG’s Consumer Protection hotline at (888) 432-9257 and complete an online report at ag.ky.gov/consumer-protection/complaints.

• To sign up to receive scam alerts, text “KYOAH Scam” to GOV311 (468-311), or enroll at ag.ky.gov/scams and select either text or email alerts.