Arlington Heights police warn about ‘grandkid scam’

Arlington Heights police are warning residents to be wary of calls seeking money to bail loved ones out of jail after an elderly woman was taken for $4,000 last week in a so-called “grandkid scam.”

A scammer phoned the woman on Thursday, claiming to be her grandson, with another person saying her grandson needed money to get out of jail, according to Crime Prevention Officer Brandi Romag.

The woman then followed the scammer’s instructions to go to a local Target store and buy gift cards totaling $4,000, Romag said.

“The sooner they get you moving, the sooner they’ve got you,” Romag said.

She said the scammers told the woman to call them back with details about the gift cards she purchased.

“They ask for the gift cards’ numbers and the PIN, and instantly, the money is gone,” Romag said.

The “grandkid scam” typically begins with a call in which an elderly person is told his or her grandchild needs money for bail, for a medical bill or to get out of some other kind of trouble, according to the Federal Trade Commission website www.ftc.gov. The victim is commonly told the matter is urgent and must be kept a secret, the site says.

“Scammers are good at pretending to be someone they’re not,” the website says. “They can be convincing, sometimes using information from social networking sites or hacking into your loved one’s email account to make it seem more real. And they’ll pressure you to send money before you have time to think.”

Officials advise that anyone receiving such a call should hang up immediately, then call his or her grandchild’s phone number or another family member to determine whether the problem is legitimate. But the scammers can be very persuasive, authorities say.

“Sometimes these callers are very adamant, and they tell the victim they’ll stay on the line with them or will call them back in 10 minutes,” Romag said.

She said often the phone scams involve an easily obtained gift card.

“These offenders prey on your emotions,” Romag said. “It doesn’t make any sense that you’d need to buy a gift card in these situations, but the elderly victims are being told that their grandchildren are in trouble and by the time they figure out something’s not right, it’s too late.”

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