COLUMBIA COUNTY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — New York State Police are warning the public about the “grandparent scam” after they received multiple reports in Columbia County. These scams usually involve someone calling to claim that someone’s grandchild or other relative has been arrested and a bail bondsman needs to be paid immediately.

In some cases, the person on the phone requests amounts as high as $30,000. Police said one case in Chatham involved the victims leaving $12,000 outside of their house to be picked up by a “courier.”  Another case involved payments of cash to be sent through the mail hidden inside old magazines.

Another current scam, the “family emergency scam,” attempts to convince the victim a relative was involved in a serious accident and money is needed for medical payments. Police said these scams ask for large sums of money transferred in unusual ways without any face-to-face interaction. Once the people have extracted money they may also call back and try to get more.

State Police offer suggestions to avoid these scams:

  • Take a pause. Scammers create a sense of urgency to prey on victims’ emotions and their love for family members.
  • Verify any supposed emergency by calling friends and family before sending money.
  • A grandparent may think they would know whether they were speaking to their own grandchild or to an imposter, but it is easy to be fooled. The caller may be crying, or the background may be noisy, or the caller may claim the connection is bad.
  • If the caller claims to be a bail bonds person, ask where the relative is being held and contact the facility directly. Grandparents can also call their local police department, where officers may be able to call the jail and confirm the story.
  • Be suspicious of anyone who calls unexpectedly asking to be sent money.
  • Never send cash through the mail.
  • Never purchase pre-paid debit cards or gift cards for the purpose of transferring money.
  • Develop a secret code or “password” with family members that can be used to verify the identity of family members over the phone.
  • Ask a question that only the real grandchild would know the answer to, such as “what was the name of your first pet?”
  • Set Facebook and other social media settings to private to limit the information available to scammers, such as the name of grandchildren.

In 2020, the Federal Trade Commission received 24,545 complaints of individuals impersonating family members and friends, up from 20,234 in 2019. New Yorkers filed 1,359 complaints in 2020.

More information about the scams can be found on the Office of the Attorney General’s website. New Yorkers who have been targeted by this scam can file a complaint by completing and submitting a Consumer Frauds and Protection Bureau online complaint form or by calling (800) 771-7755.