Scammers have been reviving an old trick - and applying a new level of sophistication. They are using it to target generous grandparents and steal their hard-earned cash. So how can you spot this scam, and keep yourself safe?
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In the scam, grandparents will receive a call out of the blue - usually late at night or early in the morning - claiming to be from a grandchild. They explain that they are in some kind of trouble, and ask their grandparent to send them money.
The scammers targeted one 81-year old in Oklahoma, who received a call from someone she thought was her grandson. He told her he'd been in an accident, where he had been hurt - and even claimed it was the stitches in his lip that made him sound different.
He then said he had been charged with drunk driving, and needed $1,900 to make bail. After she agreed, she had a call from a man pretending to be her grandson's lawyer, who again asked for money. However, while he was on the phone, she had a call from her real grandson, who was ringing to wish her a Happy Mother's Day, and she realised it was a scam.
The scam has been doing the rounds for decades, but in its latest incarnation, the scammers have become more sophisticated. They can pull information from Facebook and other social media about the grandchild, and use that to convince their elderly relatives. In come cases, they may buy stolen information about the grandchild.
This scam isn't just limited to the US, scammers have been targeting grandparents in the UK, and recently there was a spate of attempted scams in the Midlands and in Devon. In most cases they asked for bank details over the phone to cover bail, but in some cases sent a 'courier' to pick up their credit cards.
If you receive this kind of call, there are five steps you need to take to protect yourself.
1. Assume it is a scam
Lawyers don't call grandparents to pay bail by credit card. They don't get in touch with elderly people in the middle of the night asking for hundreds of thousands of pounds: it's only scammers who do this.
2. Take your time
If you are still worried that our grandchild needs help, then take your time to think things through. These scams work by creating a sense of urgency, and saying the money needs to be transferred immediately. Your best protection, therefore, is not to do anything hasty. Take all the time you need.
3. Make checks
You can tell any caller that you need to think things through, then make some calls - from an alternative phone if possible so that the scammers don't stay on the line. Call your grandchild to check the story. If they're not in, call their parents. If you get no reply, call your local police station and check if your grandchild really has got into trouble.
4. Report them
Once you have confirmation that it's definitely a scam, report it to Action Fraud on o300 123 2040 or online
5. Call your grandchildren
The frauds prey on grandparents' loneliness, and their hope of hearing from their grandchildren. It's tricky for younger people to appreciate how much their grandparents need them to get in touch - and they are often so busy that they don't get in contact as often as they would like.
It's nice to hear from grandchildren, but if they don't get in touch with you, you can get in touch with them. Drop them a text or give them a call, and find out how they're getting on. It would be nice to think that if anyone is contacted with this kind of fraud, their grandparents could think 'That's not my grandchild, I spoke to them yesterday and they were fine'.