Majority Press

Senate Aging Committee Examines "Grandparent" Phone Scams

WASHINGTON – As part of its ongoing efforts to educate seniors about telephone scams and to put a stop to them, the Senate Special Committee on Aging, led by Chairman Bill Nelson and Ranking Member Susan Collins, today held a hearing to examine “Grandparent” phone scams.  Among the witnesses was Roger. W., an 81-year old Cincinnati resident who became victim to one of these scams and lost a total of $7,000.

Last December, Roger W. answered a call from someone he thought was his grandson on the other end of the phone. The “grandson” said he had been arrested for speeding and drug possession and urgently needed money for bail.  He then turned the call over to a person claiming to be a police officer.  Convinced their grandson needed help, Roger W. and his wife headed to a local retail store to purchase a money-order card to cover the cost of bail.

After sending money to the supposed police officer, the couple reached their real grandson on his cellphone and soon discovered they had been conned out of their hard-earned money. They are among an untold number of seniors who have fallen victim to an old imposter scam known as the “grandparent scam” that experts say is making a comeback across the nation.

Roger W., who requested anonymity to avoid becoming a target of other con-artists, testified as part of an Aging Committee hearing titled, “Hanging up on Phone Scams: Progress and Potential Solutions to the Scourge.”   Today’s hearing was the Committee’s seventh on scams that target seniors.  

During the hearing, Senator Collins explained that a great deal of what the Committee has learned about these scams is a result of reports and complaints made to the Committee’s fraud hotline. “As we have learned, these scammers are not only unscrupulous and aggressive, often calling victims dozens of times, but they are also technically savvy. They know how to route their calls using ‘Voice over Internet Protocol’ and they know how to ‘spoof’ caller ID to make it appear they are coming from a trusted source,” said Senator Collins.

Senator Collins described the case of a Maine grandfather who was called by a scammer impersonating his grandson and was told by the would-be victim that he had gotten into a car accident in Nicaragua and needed money. After several calls from the con artist, the grandfather suspected a scam and contacted state and local law-enforcement agencies, but was told there was nothing they could do.

Over the past five years, consumers have reported more than nine million various scams to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Last year alone, the FTC received reports of more than 127,000 “imposter scams,” similar to the “Grandparent” scam discussed by the Committee today.

In addition, according to the FTC, Americans lost more than $73 million to impostor scams last year.  While the agency admits the figure accounts for only a fraction of the problem because most victims fail to report the crime, instances of imposter scams have doubled between 2009 and 2013.

While Committee witnesses described ways that the government, law enforcement and the telecommunication industry is working to combat these telephone scams, it is critical that seniors be aware of these scams to avoid becoming victim.

Other witnesses included Kevin Rupy, Vice President, Law and Policy, United States Telecom Association; Lois Greisman, Associate Director, Division of Marketing Practices, Federal Trade Commission; and Joseph Campbell, Assistant Director, Criminal Investigative Division, Federal Bureau of Investigation.