RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - If your grandchild called stranded or in trouble with the law, odds are you'd quickly try to help. Criminals are counting on you.
Jackie Steigerwald got a phone call from who she thought was her grandson, desperate for help.
"He said, I'm fine grandma but we totaled the car and before we can leave they've taken our passports and we have to have money, restitution for the car," said Steigerwald.
"They will tell them to go to Walmart and wire them some money and call them with the transaction number," said detective John Anderson. "Once that money has been wired, they will keep calling them and calling them until that money has been transferred over."
Across the country, grandparents are being hit by a resurgence of this old scam, which now features a nasty new wrinkle.
Investigators suspect social networking sites like Facebook may be the launch point to grab easy intel... because some young users overshare.
"It allows the scam artist the ability to connect the dots," said social worker Erin Weir. "They are able to label their family members now so it can display right on their profile who their mother is. Who their grandfather is, which is kind of nice in some ways but in terms of this scam, it's very frightening."
Facebook says its users have complete control over their profiles, but had not heard of the grandparent scam.
Once the con artists know just enough, they let grandma do the talking.
"There was a youngster on there that said, ‘morning, grandma!'" said Steigerwald. "And he said, ‘it's your grandson.' And I said, ‘is this Kyle or Ryan?' And he said, ‘it's Kyle.'"
"They are trying to get you to fill in the blanks for them," said Weir. "The most important thing anyone can do is not fill in the blanks."
Jackie went to wire money, but a Walmart clerk bought her some time.
"She said, ‘did they say he was in an accident?' I said yes, and she said, ‘did they say they would call back in two hours?' I said yes. She said, ‘go back home and make sure that is your grandson.'"
Jackie's $4800 was halfway to Canada when her real grandson surfaced. She got lucky and was able to stop the money.
"I felt like a big fool because from the get-go I had a suspicion that was not a kosher story and yet we didn't want to take that chance."
The experts say try to verify the caller identity. Ask personal questions a stranger couldn't answer. If the caller gets rude or more desperate, hang up and call another relative to try and verify what's going on.
(c) 2009. WWBT, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.