The “Grandparent Scam” has been around for years, however the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reports a dramatic increase in complaints in recent months.

Imposters posing as grandchildren in trouble place frantic calls to grandparents late at night; saying they need help immediately, pleading for money. Worried grandparents send wire transfers as instructed–often thousands of dollars.

If you fall for the scam, the imposter may call back and try to steal even more by adding a new layer to the story. If the grandparent provided bail money, the imposter may ask for money to repair the car, or may call back and say they had an accident on the way home and need money to pay hospital bills. The caller always insists the grandparents don’t tell anyone about the money transfer.

Imposters could be placing random calls. A con artist could simply say “Hi Grandma” or “Hi Grandpa” when the phone is answered and wait for the victim to provide the name. “Hi Billy, how are you?” Imposters could be searching blogs or public web sites, such as Facebook and MySpace for family information.

Tips to Avoid Grandparent Scam

The Better Business Bureau serving Alaska, Oregon and Western Washington and the Portland Police Bureau’s White Collar Crimes Unit are teaming up to offer tips on avoiding these threats:

  • Be skeptical.
  • Ask questions that only family members would know, like pet names or favorite foods, without revealing too much personal information.
  • Verify information, checking with family members to confirm the locations of grandchildren.
  • Don’t send money and never wire money out of the country to persons unknown.
  • Stay private, regularly updating privacy settings for social media sites.
  • Immediately report incidents to local law enforcement agencies and the state Attorney General’s Office.
  • Give family members a “password” to use for emergency calls.

Imposter scams are now No. 4 on the FTC’s list of Top Ten Complaints for 2013. The commission received more than 121,720 complaints about imposter scams that year.