Winter Break is upon us, Badgers! These next few weeks will be the perfect time to relax, travel, and spend time with family and friends. While you’re home for the holiday season, we ask that you take a few minutes to have a discussion with your loved ones about a crime that police departments across the country have seen on the rise: scams targeting grandparents.
You may have seen the articles in local newspapers; most recently, a Madison couple lost $80,000 to a scam artist who pretended to be their grandson. The rise of technology and ease of access to private information is abused by scammers, who use social media, obituaries, and other methods to identify their targets. Scammers can quickly learn their target’s relatives’ name, birth date, address, phone number, location and use this information to develop a detailed, personalized scam. Technology allows these criminals to “spoof” their phone calls to their intended victims. “Spoofing” is when the number that appears on caller ID is not the true number that is calling. For example, if a scammer knows your phone number, they can make a call to your family member or friend that appears to be coming from your number.
Armed with this information, scammers call their victims, impersonate their family and friends, and say they are in some sort of trouble that requires money to fix. Examples include flat tires, legal trouble, requesting bail money, or medical emergencies. The victim is then asked to send cash, money orders, or is sent to purchase gift cards and provide the serial numbers to the scam artist. This process happens very quickly, not giving the victim time to think through what is happening. Often times, by the time the target realizes something is wrong, the money is already gone. When the realization sets in, victims are often too embarrassed to tell anyone what has happened.
So what can you do to protect your family, friends, and even yourself? First and foremost is education. Do a little bit of research into scams in your area, paying particular attention to the methods used to transfer money. Scams are constantly changing and it’s important to remain up to date on common techniques used to cheat people out of their money. Second, check the social media privacy settings for your account and the accounts of your loved ones. Ensure privacy settings are in place to hide birth dates, phone numbers, and locations from public profiles. Third, talk about it! As police officers, we see these cases all too often and yet, in the last year, even family and friends of UWPD employees lost thousands of dollars to these scammers. Having a brief conversation about common scams can prepare your loved ones if that call ever comes.
And if you think someone is trying to scam you, don’t get caught up in the emotions. Slow down, either ask more questions or hang up and call a trusted family member. Before you send money or buy gift cards over the phone, run the situation past another, impartial person. Talk to your loved ones about how to protect themselves from scams-it may be the most valuable gift you give this holiday season!