Although it’s uncomfortable and might be angering for a law-abiding citizen to hear, there’s something to be said for listening on the rare occasion an offender decides to speak.
On this segment of CBS This Morning, correspondent Carter Evans sits down with a 31-year-old charged and awaiting sentence for his participation in the “grandparent scam,” a phone con that targets older Americans and exploits their emotions for big payouts.
Though the interviewee requests to have his name withheld, he sits down with Evans to reveal almost everything about how this scam works: what he’d say, who he’d target and why, and what (or what didn’t) go through his head when he made off with huge amounts of vulnerable seniors’ cash–an amount he says could be as high as “$10,000…in a day if you do it properly.”
Paired with the experience of an 81-year-old grandmother who became the unfortunate victim of nearly the exact phone call the scammer describes, it’s difficult to hear the scammer’s response to Evan’s questioning:
“What drives a person like you when you know how much pain it’s causing people?”
“I didn’t know how much pain this was causing people. I thought people are making $100,000 a year and they would lose a couple thousand here and there…people lose money all the time.”
But four years after the airing of this segment, law enforcement is still having trouble getting control of the grandparent scam. The scammers using it are no easier to catch now than they were in 2014. And the techniques are still working.
Despite our best efforts to shut down the bogus call centers where these crooks operate and catch the people victimizing seniors, it still largely falls to seniors themselves to watch out for grandparent scammers. That’s where getting into the heads of the scammers themselves can be very useful.
Throughout the segment, the former scammer gives some very useful flags for recognizing this strategy:
- Since it’s likely the caller won’t sound anything like your grandchild, they’ll usually offer an excuse for it (“I broke my nose,” “I have a cold,” or “my connection is bad”).
- They’ll avoid giving their own name since they don’t know your actual grandchild’s name (in the segment, when the victim asks who’s calling, the scammer replied “don’t you know?”).
- After making the ask, they’ll heavily stress the need to keep the transaction secret–they’ll often beg the victim to not to tell anyone they’ve asked you for money.
- To keep the fraudulent transaction untraceable and irreversible, the caller will ask you to send the money in a form that’s as good as cash: a wire transfer or loaded onto several gift cards.
- If you’re unsure of the caller’s identity, a sure-fire way to peg a scammer is asking him or her a personal question only your real grandchild would know the answer to–the former scammer himself makes this suggestion.
Another important takeaway from the interview is the reason why the former scammer says those in his line of work go after seniors: they’re home, presumably alone or lonely, and it’s easy to tweak their emotions and get them to act without thinking. Afterward, the shame and embarrassment of falling for such a seemingly transparent trick is enough to keep victims from reporting it or speaking about it.
But no one is insusceptible in a heightened emotional state. We are all liable to act on impulse when we think someone we love is in danger. It’s important to remember blaming the victim of a crime for the damage done to him by the criminal is NEVER acceptable–it was a CRIME.
The only one who should feel shame or embarrassment about the grandparent scam is the grandparent scammer.
And hopefully this former scammer finally understands the pain he has caused.