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Officials: Scammers Using Social Media To Learn More About Targets

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- It's called the "Grandparent Scam," but it can happen to anyone -- con artists claim a loved one is in trouble and desperately need money.

As CBS 2's Dick Brennan reported, the scam is worse than ever because of social networking.

"I got an email from my sister-in-law," Nancy Weinberg explained. The "sister-in-law" said her luggage was stolen in Madrid and asked Weinberg to send her $2,500.

Suspicious, Weinberg called her sister-in-law's phone.

"She said, 'No, I'm here in Rhode Island,'" Weinberg said. "There is no trip to Spain."

But many elderly people fall for the scheme that has reached a level never seen before.

One very popular tactic is the "grandson in trouble," said Gary Brown, New York assistant state attorney general.

"He's been in a car accident while traveling in a foreign country," Brown described. "He needs you to wire money right away or else he's going to rot in jail, going to be thrown in jail and not let out."

The scammers are bolder than ever now because they are scanning the Internet and social media to learn more about you.

"They are getting names, tidbits of information, pieces they can use when they are on the phone with you -- like, 'Oh, this is little Johnny, and I have a pet dog named Timmy,'" Westchester Assistant District Attorney Robert Mays said.

"It's an impostor who knows, as the grandparents always tell me, things only their grandchild would know," Rep. Nita Lowey, D-Westchester, said.

So how can people stop the scammers? Look for red flags, such as when they say "don't tell anyone" or when the caller who claims to be a loved one quickly gives the phone to someone else.

Pat Wagner was told her daughter was in trouble, but then asked the caller the right question.

"I said, 'Well, why isn't she calling me?'" Wagner said. "And then they hung up on me."

In these cases, the money is almost never recovered. Some victims have lost their life savings.

Anyone who believes they may have been scammed should call the district attorney or attorney general.

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