"We see more of it this time of year," said Kelly. "The holidays are here, and the scammers think that grandparents will be in the right frame of mind to send money to a 'grandchild' who is in trouble."
There are many versions of the scam, but they usually involve a desperate call from a person pretending to be a grandchild, in trouble in another country and in urgent need of cash. Very often, the scammer will insist on a wire transfer of money or a pre-paid cash card, and plead with the grandparent "not to tell mom and dad about this."
"The scammers are extremely good at gaining your trust," says Kelly. "They play on your feelings of sympathy for a grandchild in deep distress. It's easy to see why people continue to fall for this scam."
Sometimes the caller will have a partner who gets on the phone pretending to be a law officer, attorney or hospital worker, according to Kelly. It's all designed to fool you into thinking the call is genuine.
Kelly says the best thing to do is to end the call and verify everything through another family member. Above all, Kelly says, do not send money by wire transfer or a pre-paid cash card. Money sent in these ways usually cannot be recovered.
"We have a lot of seniors in Pennsylvania, and the scammers out there have targeted their life savings," says Kelly. "All of us can do something to help people protect themselves. That might be as simple as having a conversation with an older relative or neighbor. We should all pitch in and watch out for each other."
Kelly says you should watch for these warning signs:
Caller needs money urgently, immediately.
• Caller asks for secrecy.
• Caller asks for money sent by wire transfer or pre-paid card.
• Caller is in Canada or another foreign country.
• Caller gets some personal details wrong.
Kelly said consumers who suspect they have been a victim of a scam are encouraged to contact their local police. Consumers may also file a complaint with the Attorney General's Bureau of Consumer Protection by calling 1-800-441-2555 or electronically at www.attorneygeneral.gov.