Money Transfer Scams
One day I got a phone call from a brother sharing the news that one of our young nephews was in some sort of serious trouble. How did my brother know? The nephew had phoned our 80-year old mother (his grandmother)—with whom my brother was living at the time—and asked her to wire him some money. He said he was in jail, needed the money to get out, and didn’t want to tell his dad (another of my brothers).
My mother believed the caller was our nephew. Fortunately she made the judgment that bailing out her grandson without his dad’s knowledge would be a poor choice. She did not suspect a scam, but rather just decided against helping out her grandson, for her own reasons.
My mom relayed this story to my brother, who also did not recognize the scam, as these sorts of crimes had not yet gotten much publicity. So he called me to share our nephew’s predicament. I also didn’t discount the story as a scam, though somehow it didn’t make sense to me. Our nephew has a good relationship with his dad, and I didn’t buy the part of the story that he didn’t want his dad to know he’d gotten into trouble. The more I thought about it, the more suspicious I became.
My brother called our nephew to try to learn what was going on directly from him. Of course our nephew had nothing to confess and was just confused by the call. Finally my brother and I realized: the call to our mother had been a classic “grandmother scam.” The caller probably learned everything he needed to know to make the call sound credible from our mother’s Facebook page.
Money Transfer Scams: A Huge “Business”
The “grandmother scam” and many money transfer rip-offs are a multi-million, if not billion, dollar business. The energy and ingenuity that goes into criminal activity has always astounded me. I’m sure many of these clever scammers would make excellent, legitimate entrepreneurs and business people. But they choose instead to be thieves. For some, perhaps legitimate opportunities where the live are scarce.
Check out this run down from the FTC of the most popular money transfer scams. Scary!