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ABC News

A growing number of scam artists who target senior citizens have stolen thousands of dollars from victims in what is known as the “grandparent scam,” officials say.

The con is within a category of “impostor scams” for which there were 60,000 complaints last year, according to the Federal Trade Commission. And officials have urged the public to report the scams to law enforcement.

Jim and his wife of Wilmington, N.C., for example, received a call last month from a man saying he was their grandson.

The man said he had been in a car accident while traveling in the Dominican Republic. After explaining his injuries and that he badly needed money to get out of jail and return to the United States, the man begged Jim, 78, not to tell his “parents” and blamed his voice change on the accident.

“‘Con man’ is short for confidence man,” Steve Baker, director of the FTC’s Midwest region, said. “Their expertise is gaining your confidence.”

Jim, who asked ABC News not to publish his last name, worried about his grandson’s safety and health, followed the man’s instructions and wired him several installments totaling $7,200 through Western Union. He and his wife had not spoken to their several grandsons in weeks, all of whom live out of state.

Jim learned he was the victim of an imposter scam when he called his son after a day to check up on him, and the grandson was fine at home.

“I obviously felt terrible about it,” Jim said. “My first reaction was I felt stupid. I can think of 1,000 questions that would have stopped it.”

North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper’s Consumer Protection Division has seen a spike in the grandparent scam targeting the elderly in North Carolina. From Jan. 20 to March. 17, the office received 12 complaints from people ranging in ages from 72 to 88 targeted by scammers posing as their grandchildren or other family members.

The scammers stole from $1,200 to $25,549 from each individual, with a total loss of $129,889 in the period.

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