The DC Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking (DISB) wants residents to be on the alert for a new grandparent scam that makes use of sophisticated voice technology. Elderly residents fall victim to the scam when scam artists pose as grandchildren and call asking for money, under false pretenses, often to address seemingly urgent needs. To succeed, fraudsters rely on the cognitive and auditory decline of the aging population. With the remarkable advances in low-cost computer driven technologies, scammers are more sophisticated and are using the technology to trick seniors.
According to a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) report, in 2021, 349 District residents over the age of 60 lost $7,704,848 to scams; among those scams was the grandparent scam. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reports that approximately 10 District residents report grandparent scams each year.
How the Scam Is Perpetrated
Scammers search Facebook, Tik Tok, Instagram and other social media platforms for the recorded voices of teenage and college-aged subscribers. They use voice emulating software to clone the targeted voice and manipulate it to say whatever they want. The replicated voice is indistinguishable from the actual person’s voice. For example, the scammer will call the grandparent, who will hear their grandchild say, in a despondent tone, “Grandpa! Help me! I’ve been kidnapped by some crazy guy at a gas station. He tied me up and I’m in the back of his pickup truck. I’m really scared. He is demanding that you send him Bitcoin worth $20,000 by 3 p.m., or he is going to hurt me. And he said if you call the cops, I won’t live to see the sun rise tomorrow. Please help me. I love you!” The scammer then gets on the phone to say they are serious about the threat and will send a QR code via SMS for deposit of the Bitcoin into their account/wallet.
If you get a call that appears to be from a grandchild or child in distress:
While on the call, ask a couple of questions that only they would know the answer to, but not something easily found on social media. If they cannot answer correctly, it is a scam, and the caller will hang up.
If you have any doubts or concerns, hang up and call your grandchild directly to see if they are all right. If they don’t answer, call your grandchild’s parents to see if they know their whereabouts.
If you cannot reach either your grandchild or their parents, call your grandchild’s friends.
If you still cannot locate your grandchild using all the above methods, immediately call the police, relate the substance of the threatening call, and follow police instructions.
Do not send money, Bitcoin, or cryptocurrency to unknown individuals.
District residents who believe they, or someone they know, have been a victim of a financial scam should contact the DISB Enforcement and Consumer Protection Division at (202) 727-8000. Learn how to avoid other scams by visiting disb.dc.gov/page/consumer-scams.