5 On Your Side

Grandparents scam making a comeback

Posted September 6, 2011

— The “grandparent scam” has been around for years. It involves con artists who prey on seniors by telling them their grandchildren are in trouble.

A Raleigh couple came very close to losing thousands of dollars through the scam.

John and Annie Mae Bunch received a call one night from a person claiming to be their 21-year-old grandson, John, who was visiting Toronto. The man said he had been at a concert and had a few beers and was involved in a car crash. 

"He said, 'I'm in trouble. I need your help,' and I said, 'Sure, what's wrong?'" Annie Mae Bunch said. 

Then, another man got on the phone.

"He said, 'We went to court, and the judge said he had to pay for the car he hit before he could let him out of jail,'" Annie Mae Bunch said. 

The man told them to send $2,800. When John Bunch said he would wire the money, the man insisted it had to be sent through Western Union. 

So, to get their grandson out of a Toronto jail, the couple wired the money from Garner to an insurance company in Panama City, Fla.

"Scam never crossed my mind. All I could think of was getting him, so he could come home," John Bunch said. 

But it was a scam, and it fell apart. A computer glitch sent the money back to the Bunches. So, the man told them to send it to Mexico City instead.

"Our friend said, 'Are you sure that's not a scam?' And we got to thinking, so we came home and called Western Union," Anne Mae Bunch said. 

The clerk froze the transaction and sent the money back. At the same time, the Bunches finally talked with their grandson, who had been at school at East Carolina University the whole time. 

Scammers target grandparents Scammers target grandparents

This is just one version of a decades-old scam. But it appears it's making quite a comeback.

North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper is aware of at least 70 people this, who lost more than $500,000 combined to scammers who posed as grandchildren in trouble.

How do the criminals get the information? Experts say social networking sites like Facebook make it easier than ever to concoct a very believable story.

Considering the Bunches originally wired $2,800, they feel lucky to lose only a $136 transfer fee. And John Bunch did at least get some satisfaction when the scammer called back.

"I said, "No, John isn't there. He's here in North Carolina,'" John Bunch said. "I said, 'You're taking advantage of elderly people by trying to steal their money by phone, and this is fraud.'" 

A quick reminder about what to do if you get a call or email from someone asking for help:

  • Hang up or log off and contact the person in question directly yourself
  • Ask questions only close family would know the answer to
  • Never give out personal information

More often than not, when someone you don't know asks you to wire money it's a scam. Once you do it, it's almost impossible to get that money back. The Bunches were lucky to be an exception.


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  • Seeminglyopposed Sep 8, 2011

    Well they must do credit checks because in some cases a great deal of people would not have this kind of cash just laying around to be dished out. If they would call my parents for that kind of cash they would still be in jail.

  • snowl Sep 7, 2011

    My co-worker told me months ago that her elderly mother, over 80 years old, was scammed exactly this way. She was taken twice for a grand total of $13,000. before she told her daughter and then she realized she had been scammed. Everyone should have a talk with their senior friends and relatives about how this scam works.

  • BubbaDuke Sep 7, 2011

    There is a special place in Hell for scam artists - the extra dark and crispy section.

  • Desiderata Sep 7, 2011

    They need to find these scammers and put them away where they can't hurt anyone,,no computers either!

  • The Gooch Sep 7, 2011

    This scam is definitely making a big comeback these days. It recently happened to my grandparents where a young man called saying he was in Mexico City and had wrecked his rental car. They ended up thinking it was me and were willing to do whatever they were told to get me back home. The person said that the Mexican authorities were holding him and would not release him until they were wired $6000 through Western Union. Luckily, my grandparents mentioned it to my uncle who saw it for the scam that it was. I was inundated with phone calls from my uncle, parents, wife, and finally grandparents on my way out of a meeting at work. Nothing like a little tug on the heart-strings to make folks fork over lots of cash. I guess this is the world we live in.