Impostor Grandchildren Scam the Elderly for Big Bucks

"Say you see an obituary and read that someone is survived by 'grandson Nick in Phoenix,'" Baker said. "Or you can find Nick's Facebook page where he has talked about his grandparent's names. With Internet searches, they are armed with lots of information."

The Federal Trade Commission said that complaints of "impostor scams" have been growing for several years and was the sixth most frequent FTC complaint last year, breaking into the top-10 list for the first time.

Baker estimated that 20 percent of impostor scam victims never file complaints because they are ashamed or embarrassed that they have been duped.

But Baker said the three largest misconceptions of grandparent scam, or any impostor scam, are the "it could never happen to me" mentality, that these scams are rare and that they only happen to dumb people.

Officials Urge Victims to File Complaints to Catch Perpetrators

"They are generous and caring, not dumb," Baker said.

Victims of imposter scams are urged to call their individual state consumer protection divisions and the Federal Trade Commission at (877) FTC-Help or visit the website FTC.gov. The FTC is also hosting a conference on May 2-3 about fraud scams in Chicago that is open to the public, in conjunction with wire-transfer companies Western Union and MoneyGram.

Benjamin Horack of Charlotte, N.C., 93, was also the victim of a grandparent scam in June 2009, wiring $3,000 to someone whom he believed was his grandson in trouble, plus $300 in fees to MoneyGram.

After Horack learned it was a scam, he said he felt "stupid" but soon decided to take action.

Horack, a retired attorney, and his law firm, Horack Talley, sent a letter to MoneyGram, threatening to sue or file a class-action lawsuit and alleging how the company was at fault for allowing him to send money to an impostor.

MoneyGram eventually refunded the money to Horack after about six months, he said.

"I stamped my feet, being a lawyer, and worked through my office," said Horack, who has alerted his retirement community in Charlotte to the scam.

"They get all your guards down," Horack said of the scam artists. "As I say, they're virtuous. You have to admire them but I hope every one of them go to hell."

Jim, in Wilmington, N.C., said he thought God was teaching him a positive lesson from the scam experience, realizing he was valuing money "more than I should have."

He hopes he can prevent others from falling victim to the scam.

"It was like getting hit with a tuba between the eyes," Jim said. "As embarrassed as I was, can you imagine if it was someone's last $7,000?"

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