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AG Kilmartin Warns Rhode Islanders of "Grandma Scam"

After learning of new and recent attempts to defraud Rhode Islanders, Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin has issued a warning about a resurgence of the "Grandma Scam."

This scam targets the elderly and usually starts with a phone call – a con artist poses as a grandchild in urgent need of money. In some cases, scammers have even posed as a police officer or an attorney. But in every case, the caller claims that an emergency has occurred, and requests money be sent immediately via wire transfer.

"This scam is particularly vicious, because it preys upon loving grandparents' worst fears: that something bad has happened to their precious grandchild," said Attorney General Kilmartin. "Scammers want to push you into acting quickly, but don't – take a few minutes to collect yourself and double-check the story."

Sometimes the caller claims to be a lawyer or a close friend of the child, whose alleged problems range from being in prison in a foreign country, to being in a car accident, missing a wallet, losing an airline ticket, or having a credit card stolen while traveling. The scam can also happen by email after access to email accounts has been compromised. In some cases, scammers gather their target information from public records, telemarketer's lists and social networking sites.

To help you avoid being scammed, Attorney General Kilmartin has put together some warning signs and tips so consumers can recognize and prevent this scam.

Warning signs: You're asked to send money quickly – and secretly. The call or message originates from overseas. However, be aware that technology allows scammers to bypass caller ID systems. The person can't or won't answer questions that only the real person would know. Any time someone asks you to send money by Western Union or Moneygram, it's probably a scam. You might also be asked to send a check or money order by overnight delivery. Con artists recommend these services so they can steal your money before you realize you've been cheated. Money transfers can be picked up at any service location as long as the thief/recipient has the confirmation number.

Tips: Avoid volunteering information over the phone. Always ask callers to identify themselves by name. Ask for information that only you and people close to you would know. Ask for a callback number. A scam artist will not be able to provide a legitimate, working phone number. Using a phone number you know to be genuine, call the friend or relative claiming to need your help to confirm whether the story is true. If you aren't able to contact them, call other friends or family members to confirm the situation. Refuse to send money via wire transfer. If you have wired money and it hasn't been picked up yet, call the wire transfer service to cancel the transaction. Once the money has been picked up, there is no way to get it back.

If you believe you are a victim of consumer fraud, please contact the Consumer Protection Unit at the Department of Rhode Island Attorney General at (401) 274-4400. You can download a consumer complaint by visiting our website at www.riag.ri.gov. You can also email us at contactus@riag.ri.gov.

About the Office of the Attorney General Consumer Protection Unit The Office of the Attorney General Consumer Protection Unit investigates and mediates consumer complaints concerning unfair and unlawful business practices and misleading advertising arising out of alleged violations of the Deceptive Trade Practices Act. If groups of people are victimized by a deceptive trade practice, this office may file in the Superior Court a civil investigative demand, which is a formal investigation. In appropriate cases, a lawsuit to stop the illegal business practice may be initiated.

Apart from carrying out its statutory responsibilities, the Unit also provides information and referral services to the general public. Consumers are directed to the appropriate governmental or private agencies for help in answering specialized questions or resolving disputes that are not within the Unit's jurisdiction.

The Consumer Protection Unit is available to speak to community groups on how to prevent being a victim of identity theft and other scams. If you believe you are a victim of consumer fraud, please contact the Consumer Protection Unit by calling 401-274-4400 or email at contactus@riag.ri.gov.

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