Grandmother warns others of scam

Red flags to help you spot the 'Grandparent Scam'


She did what every loving grandmother would do – try to protect her grandson who she thought was in serious trouble. It started with a frantic call.

"I said 'What's wrong? What's wrong? Well uh, I've been in an accident and I have two black eyes, I broke my nose, and I have stitches,'" Genevieve DeStefano recalled.

DeStefano was panicked when the person claiming to be her grandson told her he had been in an accident and hit another car. Then, a second person got on the phone and claimed he was an attorney who needed a payment to keep her grandson out of jail.

The unusual fee she was told she would need to pay was $9,000 in iTunes cards. So, panicking, DeStefano immediately went to a store to buy them.

"I was so scared because he had me so scared, you know, that you'll just ruin it all and he will have to stay in jail," DeStefano explained.

Some may have found the request for iTunes cards suspicious but DeStefano had no idea what the cards even were.

Investigators say suspects always use a sense of urgency in these cases, and that's a red flag.

"Time was of the essence in her mind," explained U.S. Postal Inspector Angie Lane. "She didn't know if he was injured. They are claiming he has a broken nose and she's unsure if he is receiving medical attention."

Another red flag to watch for is someone trying to get you to keep the situation quiet.

"If they tell you to keep it a secret let that be a red flag," explained Lane. "Call and verify the facts that they are telling you. Don't be quick to act. Be quick to think."

In this case, DeStefano's family happened to stop by her house and she quickly realized her grandson was at work and not in jail.

"I cannot believe that I fell for this," admitted DeStefano.

So how did the scam artists know her grandson's name in the first place?  Investigators say social media may be to blame.

"My daughter took all of my information off Facebook. I don't even want to be on it… don't want to be on it anymore," said DeStefano.

Unlike many other "Grandparent Scams," this one does have a happy ending. DeStefano's family quickly called postal inspectors, their bank and iTunes and she got all of her money back.

The FBI says if you think you've been sammed, contact your local authorities or state consumer protection agency. (Florida's Consumer Protection Agency and Georgia's Consumer Protection Agency.) The FBI also suggests you file a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center, which not only forwards complaints to the appropriate agencies, but also collates and analyzes the data—looking for common threads that link complaints and help identify the culprits.