MANCHESTER - Granny-Scam returns with a vengeance, and unwitting victims here are among the latest to learn how convincing an emotional plea for help on the phone can be.

Township police say they've fielded reports from three residents in a matter of a few short weeks, all admitting that they sent thousands of dollars' worth of iTunes gift cards to grifters claiming to use them to help their grandchildren post bail somewhere out of state.

To begin with, police warn, courts don't accept iTunes gift cards for bail money. But this isn't foremost on the minds of victims who are hit with personal information, such as the identity of the grandchild and other family members.

That type of information is easily skimmed from Facebook, Twitter and similar social media sites.

In some instances, a victim is suddenly thrust into a rushed conversation with a panicky "grandchild," who is pleading for help.

Variations on the theme abound, teeming with imagination. Some callers claim that a grandchild needs money for an emergency, such as being stuck outside the state or the country with no money to return home, or a car repair. Some scammers might present themselves as lawyers.

In most cases, police say, they're after either gift cards, or wire transfers, and they'll stress the need to keep the situation quiet, out of the knowlege of any other family members.

Hang up, reach other family members or friends to discuss it, and call the actual relative on a number you know to belong to that individual. If the caller claims to be with law enforcement or a court system, or to be an attorney, confirm the office number and run it against a trusted phone directory.

Manchester police advise that there's no need to notify them about suspected scam calls - unless you've disclosed personal information such as Social Security identification, birth datge, bank account or credit card information. If that's the case, a police report can help repair your credit rating and help you obtain a new Social Security number.

Other points to remember, listed by the New Jersey Attorney General's Office:

  • Scammers typically ask the victim to send funds via a money order or other transfer service. Once money has been transferred and picked up by a recipient with a phony ID, it may be impossible to trace and retrieve. Never wire money unless you're dead certain about the situation.
  • Scammers often use marketing lists, with names and phone numbers or email addresses, to target victims.
  • Some scammers hack into one or more of your email accounts, then send emergency emails to your friends.
  • Phone scammers invariably try to prevent victims from verifying their stories, urging secrecy.
  • If you receive an emergency call asking for money, always check with a family member to find out whether your loved one really needs help.
  • Officials recommend creating a code word or phrase that only close family members would know, to be employed when an actual emergency call must be placed.

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