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In honor of the Caught Dead in Wyoming mystery series, my assistant Kay Coyte is writing for my newsletter and blog a series of consumer tips inspired by TV reporter Elizabeth Danniher. They frequently cover fraud perpetrated on seniors citizens, with helpful advice from U.S. agencies and groups such as AARP.

By Kay Coyte

In the Caught Dead in Wyoming mysteries, TV reporter Elizabeth Danniher has tracked down refunds and repairs for local Sherman, Wyoming, residents in her “Helping Out” consumer advocate segments. But sometimes people, particularly senior citizens, need to know when NOT to help out.

AARP’s Scam Alert blog warns about the grandparents con, in which a caller, often targeting the elderly, poses as a loved one in need of help – and money – after being robbed or hurt or detained on while vacation. According to a recent alert from the Michigan Attorney General’s office, these skillful criminals request that the grandparent wire money through Western Union or MoneyGram.  To make their story sound more plausible, they ask the grandparent to keep it a secret, claiming they are too embarrassed or fearful to contact a parent.

Just hang up, and call that grandchild – or his or her parent or other relative — directly to determine if the situation is truly dire. And never give out bank account or credit card numbers to anyone who calls you on the phone.

You might assume that only the most gullible or vulnerable or maybe just plain stupid would be susceptible to such a scam, but it came close to succeeding not once but twice in my immediate family of intelligent people. About five years ago, my mother received the call — a young man addressed her as grandma and she replied, “Charlie?” And the scam was on. The con artist “Charlie” nearly had Grandma convinced that she needed to send him money to help him get home after he lost his wallet while traveling abroad. He begged her not to call me. She was ready to drive to a Western Union location, when she began to have doubts and called her grandson on his cellphone. Luckily he answered, and assured her he was fine. That story was repeated around the table at many subsequent dinners, and my mother marveled at the scammer’s acting/improv ability.

Just last week, the scam repeated itself, this time targeting my sister and her husband. And despite knowing our mother’s story, they, too, came all too close to driving to a location to wire cash to someone they thought was a grandchild.

Here’s a short AARP interview of a couple who did lose money in the grandparent scam: