By Kristin Keckeisen, Fraud Watch Network campaign manager

Finally, some much-needed attention to the long-running grandparent scam. The Senate Special Committee on Aging held a hearing on July 16th as part of an ongoing series highlighting fraud’s devastating impact on seniors. Among the witnesses: an 81-year-old Ohio resident who lost more than $7,000 to a con artist impersonating his grandson.

The grandparent, or “family emergency,” con is simple – and effective. Scammers troll obituaries and social media sites to glean personal information about their target, and rely on getting their victim into a highly emotional state where he or she is unable to make rational decisions. Con artists call this state “under the ether,” and it is the bread and butter of any impostor scam.

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The Federal Trade Commission received reports of more than 127,000 impostor scams last year alone – costing Americans more than $73 million. And yet, this is likely just the tip of the iceberg, since so many victims fail to report the crime out of embarrassment.

AARP launched the Fraud Watch Network to arm you with the information you need to protect yourself and your family against identity theft, investment fraud and other scams.

Our mission is to help people like Donald and Ola Mae from Washington state, who were bilked out of $3,000 when their “grandson” called to say he’d go to jail if they didn’t wire the money.

So if the phone rings with a scam like this one, stop con artists in their tracks with these tips from AARP fraud expert Sid Kirchheimer:

Verify a caller’s real identity by asking questions that only your grandchild could answer, or provide some misinformation and gauge the response.
Say you will return the call at his or her home or cellphone (but don’t ask the caller for it). If you don’t have the phone number, contact a trusted family member for it.
Never provide your bank or credit card account numbers to any caller – and don’t wire-transfer funds. Scammers often request money sent this way because once you give them a wire-transfer confirmation number, they can collect funds anywhere in the world (no matter where they claim to be).
>> Get discounts on financial services with your AARP Member Advantages.

For information about other scams, sign up for the Fraud Watch Network. You’ll receive email alerts with tips and resources to help you spot and avoid identity theft and fraud, and gain access to a network of experts, law enforcement and people in your community who will keep you up to date on the latest scams in your area.

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