Ninety-year-old Carlton Frost loves hearing from his college-age grandson, who lives out of town. But on a recent morning, something wasn't quite right when the phone rang.
When Frost picked up the phone, he heard someone on the other end say, "Pop-Pop, it's C.P. I'm in a bit of trouble. I'll let my lawyer give you the details." Frost says his grandson, whom he calls C.P., always refers to him as Pop-Pop.
Then Frost recalls another man getting on the line.
"Your grandson was in a slight accident," the man said. "They don't think it was his fault, but he missed a court date, so there's a judgment against him for $2,000, and if you can wire that, I'll get him out of the hole he's in."
The lawyer told him about a Western Union office nearby in Westwood, and Frost immediately wired the money. A few hours later, Frost called his grandson and asked when he'd gotten out of jail.
"Pop-Pop, what are you talking about?," C.P. said. "I haven't been in jail."
That's when Frost realized he'd just been scammed for $2,000.
He went to the Ho-Ho-Kus police department, and together they went to the FBI and the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC said they'd seen this before.
Len Gordon, regional director of the FTC, told NBC New York investigators refer to it as the grandparent scam. One of the big red flags to look for in the grandparent scam is the other person's demand to immediately send money.
"Once you wire money, there's almost no way to track it," Gordon explained. "It's gone. It's like sending an envelope full of cash."
In fact, Frost checked with the Ho-Ho-Kus police, who in turn checked with Western Union. They discovered that the money had been picked up at a destination in Peru within five minutes of its arrival, said Frost.
The former professor admitted, "I feel foolish. A little bit resentful, but mostly mad at myself."
The FTC says scammers sometimes hack into email accounts or use social media sites to get personal information.
Other times they will tie a request for money to current news headlines. For example, Gordon says victims will be asked to send money because "your grandchild's been stuck in Haiti after the earthquake."
Frost says it's easy to fall victim. "It's your grandson, you love him, you worry about him and you fall for the line," he said.