Consumer Protection warns Grandparent Scam targets families of LDS Church missionaries

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Division of Consumer Protection has received a report of a scam artist calling grandparents of a missionary from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with a ploy that their grandchild was in trouble and needed them to send money. In some cases, scammers are even impersonating the grandchildren or other family members or friends.

According to the report, the Idaho grandparents receiving the call sent $3885 via wire transfer to an alleged bail bondsman for bail and court fees to aid their grandson who faced DUI charges.  The details of the family’s account mirror the reports of others who have reported such “grandparent scam” calls to the Division of Consumer Protection.

Elder Brent H. Nielson, executive director of the LDS Church Missionary Department, said that before sending any money, family members should verify that the information is correct. Nielson said:

If family members receive a call of this nature, they should always hang up with the caller and contact the mission office or the Church’s missionary department to verify the information. If a missionary is indeed in trouble, the Church would reach out to the family through their stake president, and would never ask for money from the family.

Families with missionaries currently serving are advised to be careful about what they communicate publicly regarding their child’s location, names of companions or any other identifying details as to their location which could be used for fraud.

“Missionary families, please be aware that fraudsters may be combing social media for names of grandchildren to create a fake emergency over the phone,” Francine A. Giani, executive director of the Utah Department of Commerce, said. “If you receive one of these calls, please hang up and call their parents before sending any money anywhere.”

The Utah Division of Consumer Protection has offered the following additional information and consumer tips on how to avoid grandparent scams.

They impersonate your loved ones convincingly

  • How do these scammers choose you to contact? Sometimes they contact people randomly. They also use marketing lists, telephone listings and information from social networking sites, obituaries and other sources. Sometimes they hack into people’s email accounts and send messages to everyone in their contact list.
  • How do these scammers know the names of your friends or relatives? In some cases, they don’t. For instance, the scammer may say, “Hi grandma,” hoping that you actually have a grandson. If you ask, “David, is that you?” the scammer will say, “Yes!” Often these crooks will call in the middle of the night and take advantage of the fact that you may not be awake enough to ask more questions and you may not want to disturb other people by calling them to confirm the information. Sometimes the scammers do know the names of your friends or relatives. They can get that information from a variety of sources. Your relatives may be mentioned in an obituary or on a social networking site. Your email contact list may contain the names of friends and relatives.

Scammers play on your emotions.

  • What do these scammers usually say? They might say something like, “I’m in Canada and I’m trying to get home but my car broke down and I need money right away to get it fixed.” Or they may claim to have been mugged, been in a car accident or need money for bail or to pay customs fees to get back into the United States from another country. They may also pose as an attorney or law enforcement official contacting you on behalf of a friend or relative. No matter the story, they always want you to send money immediately.

 They insist you send money right away!

  • If you realize you’ve been scammed, what can you do? These scammers ask you to send money through services such as Western Union and MoneyGram because they can pick it up quickly, in cash. They often use phony IDs, so it’s impossible to trace them. Contact the money transfer service immediately to report the scam. If the money hasn’t been picked up yet, you can retrieve it, but if it has, it’s not like a check that you can stop – the money is gone.
  • How can you protect your email account from being used by scammers? Use a firewall and anti‐virus and anti‐spyware software. Many computers come with these features already included. They are also easy to find on the internet. Keep your software updated. Don’t open attachments in emails from strangers, since they can contain programs that enable crooks to get into your computer remotely.
  • What else can you do to protect yourself? If you get a call or email from someone claiming to know you and asking for help, check to confirm that it’s legitimate before you send any money. Ask some questions that would be hard for an imposter to answer correctly – the name of the person’s pet, for example, or the date of their mother’s birthday. Contact the person who they claim to be directly. If you can’t reach the person, contact someone else – a friend or relative of the person. Don’t send money unless you’re sure it’s the real person you know.

For more information or to file a consumer complaint with the Utah Division of Consumer Protection, visit the Division of Consumer Protection website.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews

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1 Comment

  • Brian May 2, 2016 at 3:08 pm

    Another scam actively targeting seniors right now tells them they’ve won a large sum of money (many millions) and that they need to send money to process it. A family friend just lost well over $100k doing this, mailing them $12k cash for this, $7k cash for that. The friend couldn’t tell anyone because it would “break the confidentiality agreement and forfeit the winnings”. Soooo sad. There were more red flags than at a Russian garage sale, but people aren’t thinking straight when this happens.

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