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"Grandchild" scams on the rise

A year-round con artists' scam to bilk seniors by pretending to be their grandchildren - abroad, in trouble, and in need of cash - spikes during students' spring break travel period, according to the Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS) Alcohol and Gambling Enforcement Division (AGED).

AGED warns Minnesota grandparents to exercise caution if they receive phone calls from "grandchildren" requesting money for an urgent situation. Hallmarks of the fraud include a family member, or a third-party representing them such as a police officer or border agent; an urgent need for immediate funds; and a demand for secrecy.

Typically in the scam, the caller will say, "Grandma, it's me, your grandchild," and wait for the grandparent to answer, "Jimmy, is that you?" The scammer then claims they need funds wired immediately to cover a vehicle crash, an arrest, border taxes or medical needs. Stressing their embarrassment, the caller urges the grandparent not to inform their parents or friends.

Scammers often can obtain enough accurate background information from the Internet, family tree Web sites, and even newspapers to make the fraudulent calls-for-help appear legitimate. They also rely heavily on leading questions to which grandparents willingly supply the answers.

The timing of spring break travel adds legitimacy to the calls, with many fake calls claiming to be from popular student warm-weather destinations such as Mexico and Jamaica. However, calls purporting to be from Canada lend credibility to the scam throughout the year, given its proximity to Minnesota.

"It's an amoral low as these criminals feed on the trust and goodwill of grandparents responding to perceived danger for their loved-ones," notes AGED Director John Willems. "But it's very real, and our office receives complaints about this scam regularly and year-round."

Willems offers tips to grandparents - and their family members - on how to avoid being taken by this increasingly popular scheme:

--Make sure of the caller's identity. Don't provide names or other information. Ask something that only the grandchild would know.

--Verify the location of the family member by calling another family member or friend.

--Resist the pressure to act quickly. Scammers depend on immediacy and will emotionally leverage love and embarrassment to induce their targets to wire funds quickly.

Minnesotans are asked to be vigilant about scams and other criminal fraud, and to report suspected fraud to the AGED by calling toll-free 866-347-0911; submit information at; or forward suspect e-mails to