The New “Grandparent Scam” and the Best Defense Against It

For years, con artists have preyed on the elderly, claiming to be their grandchildren and in trouble with desperate need for money.  This is the traditional grandparent scam and it dates back to as long as grandparents have had home phones. Scammers know that grandma will do anything to help out, and they also know members of “the greatest generation” are excellent marks for phone scams.  In the traditional version of this scam, someone calls and tells the grandparent their grandchild has been jailed for a minor offense in a foreign country or has had a medical emergency befall them. Of course, other situations that would present an immediate need but be very hard to quickly verify are also used, so there is no one sure tell based upon circumstance.

In reality, the grandchild is not under arrest, in the hospital or in trouble at all. At the very moment the scammer says the grandchild is in the middle of an emergency, he or she is probably just staring at a cellphone screen, possibly while they’re in class, oblivious to the whole situation.

A new version of the scam has been making the rounds this summer and it has a 21st century hook. The FTC, the BBB and various news organizations are reporting that scammers are now claiming to be debt collectors and getting older Americans to fork over credit card information or wire money to the scammers.  Sometimes the collectors claim to be after young people, threatening that if grandma doesn’t come through with the cash, the grandchild will be arrested, have their license revoked or lose their job. Other times, the scammers claim the grandparents are on the hook for the debt and use their fear of losing their credit rating to finagle some easy money out of a frightened victim.

The debt collection angle is new to the grandmother scam, but hardly a new scam in itself.  Con artists have been calling with fraudulent debts and fabricated threats for years, often claiming a long-forgotten payday loan or other non-traditional debt has been turned over to the police. But as people have gotten wise to phony debt collection scams, they’ve combined the routine with grandparent scams to make a new scenario that feels very real.

With student loans and credit card debt through the roof, it’s easy to believe a loved one could have all sorts of debt we don’t know about. With the pressure on, it’s difficult to find out if it’s true.  But, if you didn’t co-sign a loan, you can’t be held responsible for paying it, no matter what someone tells you over the phone.  In fact, it’s illegal for a debt collector to tell you if someone else has a debt at all.  If you’ve ever called a credit card company on behalf of your spouse, you’ve probably experienced the privacy laws in action, because the credit card company won’t even talk to you.

If you feel pressured to make a payment or provide personal information over the phone, try to get off the line as quickly as possible.  Offer to call them back, if necessary.  The more they try to keep you on the phone, the more likely it is that they’re fraudsters who are after a quick buck.  If you think you might be a potential victim of such a scam, let the FTC know immediately, at

Then, let Rivertown know so we can make sure your accounts are safe, issue new information if necessary, and prevent any fraudulent charges.  We can also show you how to go through your credit report and find out if you have any debts you didn’t know about.

When someone pressures you on the phone, it’s always a good idea to take a break and figure out what’s really going on.


Q and A Session: Connecting Your Money and Your Smartphone

15 years ago you wouldn’t have considered linking your cellphone (if you even had one!) to your financial institution, yet now the convenience of staying connected to your finances through mobile apps and banking features seems almost necessary! With all the choices out there, it may be difficult to determine which of these apps or functions will efficiently and, hopefully, effortlessly allow you to connect your money and your Smartphone.

Here are some frequently asked questions about managing money with today’s technology:

What’s the best app for budgeting?

For most of the jobs you want to do, “there’s an app for that”. With budgeting, there aren’t as many to choose from, but that might be because one app is far and away the best. Mint, by Intuit, is a free app that connects with Rivertown or your (less awesome) financial institution to give you a clear and updated budget. It’s easy to use and it provides a good bird’s eye view of your finances. It also allows you set up plans for saving, paying off debt, etc. Rivertown also has a Free Personal Finance Management tool which lets you do all the same tasks as Mint and includes text alerts. (Okay, okay, that was a little bit of a sales pitch, but it really is a helpful tool!)

Do I really need a budgeting app?

While both mentioned above are great solutions, you can also stick to your trusty, old spreadsheet. For even more convenience, if you move your budget spreadsheet over to Google Docs, or a similar online service, you can adjust your budget on the go. Couple this with our mobile app to easily reconcile your budget the same way you always have.

I can’t get rid of the stock app on my phone. Should I just use that for monitoring my investments?

You don’t have to use it just because it’s there. You probably found a better option for your email client (such as Gmail or Dispatch) and your to-do list app (like Evernote). You can also find a much better app for investing than the one that came with your phone. Personal Capital is an app from the former CEO of Intuit, and it is one of the best free investment dashboard apps you’ll find. Its service is designed for the “aspiring wealthy,” and exchanges a free investment monitoring service for targeted advertisements for its paid investment advice.

I’m looking at all of the great automation features on my phone and I want to connect to the Credit Union that way. Why doesn’t your website “play nicely” with my phone?

We don’t have a lot of the features that other apps use to “talk to one another”, but it’s not because we’re behind the times! It’s entirely possible, and not that difficult, to build a software that will allow you to buy movie tickets online or place an Amazon order whenever you get paid. The problem is that all of those services use “programming protocols” that put your information at risk! And sorry not sorry, but we’re not going to relax the security of your accounts!

Soon enough, our mobile data will be sending selfies to one another, verifying purchases by thumbprint, and probably doing our jobs for us while we focus on other things. Who knows? For now, we’ve got really great software that makes it easier than ever to watch our spending and see our savings grow. So what do you think? Will you be trying any one of these recommendations??!


Three Ways to Use A Reloadable VISA Card

Looking for a better way to monitor your child’s spending? Maybe you want to send money to a relative far away? Perhaps you have trouble balancing a checkbook and need a low-cost way to keep your money safe and accessible? Well, have you ever thought about a Reloadable Visa card?

Here’s how it works: Apply for a card for yourself and up to four other authorized users. Once the card is open, you can deposit money into the card just like you could into any other share account. You and the authorized users can then access that money at any ATM or use the card like a debit card anywhere Visa is accepted. You can add more money to the card at any time.

This isn’t like a gift card. It’s personalized and secured with a PIN, just like a debit card. It’s usable only by the bearer and has the same identity protection Visa uses on all its cards. You can also get replacement cards if yours is lost or stolen. Any transaction over the balance of funds on the card will be automatically declined, so there’s not much risk of overdraft or negative balances.

Reloadable Visa cards are a flexible, efficient way to manage your money. Now let’s look at 3 ways you can use a reloadable Visa in your everyday life!

1.) Manage your children’s money

A reloadable Visa works great for kids. You can put their allowance on the card electronically, and they have the latitude to spend it any way they like. It’s safer than cash since it can be replaced if lost and they can use it online without having to use your credit card.

Reloadable Visa cards are also a great way to teach your children about using financial instruments responsibly. They’ll learn to associate swiping a card with real money. This lesson will go a long way toward keeping them out of credit card trouble later in life.

Reloadable Visa cards aren’t just for young children. They’re also a great way to help your college student manage money. They’ll get a card with a pre-set spending limit to keep them out of financial trouble. You’ll get peace of mind of knowing you can send them money anytime, anywhere.

2.) Keep yourself safe while traveling abroad

Carrying enough money for a vacation can be a real hassle. Especially if you’re traveling to a foreign country, the stress and strain of carrying a large quantity of cash can ruin the relaxation of an exotic getaway. Traveler’s checks have been a traditional option, but may be a hassle to track. If you’re looking for a simpler option, the pre-paid Visa card may be right for you.

You can use your Visa at any branded ATM to get money in local currency. You can also use your Visa just like you would a debit card at stores and restaurants. Best of all, if your card is lost or stolen, you have zero liability!

It may be worth your time to keep a secondary card in your luggage, just in case. It can take as much as 7 days for a new card to be shipped to you, and secondary cards can be obtained easily at signup. Having a secondary card gives you added protection and peace of mind, as long as you keep that second card in a safe place.

3.) Answers for poor or no credit life stages

Trying to navigate life without a credit card is like trying to cross the ocean in a rowboat. It’s dangerous, it takes longer, and it’s quite a bit more expensive. If you want to rent a car or a hotel room, pay bills online or use direct deposit at work, a prepaid Visa card may be the answer you’ve been seeking.

Your reloadable Visa doesn’t include a credit check, just an identity verification. It’s available for people who have a short credit history or recent trouble with credit. The number works just like a credit card number, but there’s no worry about carrying a balance or being charged interest, fees, or penalties. You can use your reloadable Visa card for direct deposit. This can save you money in check-cashing fees and get you your paycheck funds faster.

A reloadable Visa card won’t help you build credit, since it doesn’t include any lending or credit reporting. None of the activities will be reported to credit bureaus. However, it works like a credit card in every other capacity and it’s well within reach, even if your credit history isn’t perfect.

A Reloadable VISA card from Rivertown CU may be just the thing to help you kick-start a healthier financial lifestyle. Even if you don’t bank with us, you might want to look into this useful financial tool. Click Here to learn more about reloadable VISA’s available through Rivertown.