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Keeping Your Older Loved One Safe from Grandparent Scams

By Julie Hayes | 06/15/2022

Any older adult can fall victim to this scam, including your loved one, and it happens more often than you might think.

It’s an old stereotype that grandparents will do almost anything for their grandchildren—including opening their wallets more often than they probably should. If they hear their grandchild is experiencing a crisis, their first response is likely to do whatever they can to help them. Unfortunately, fraudsters are taking advantage of this natural impulse to help with a type of scheme known as a “grandparent scam.”

What is a grandparent scam?

A grandparent scam happens when a fraudster contacts an older adult over phone, text message, mail or email, pretending to be that older adult’s grandchild. In many cases, the scammers are able to give the grandchild’s name and imitate their way of speaking based on information collected from social media.

While pretending to be the older adult’s grandchild, they will claim to be in an emergency situation and in desperate need of money. Common scenarios include:

  • The grandchild has been arrested and needs money to post bond
  • The grandchild has been in a car accident or has had a medical emergency—such as contracting COVID-19— and needs money for ambulance and hospital fees
  • The grandchild is being kidnapped or robbed and needs to pay some manner of ransom to the criminals
  • The grandchild is stranded in a foreign country and needs money for travel expenses

The scam artist will then request a money transfer through wire or gift cards, and insist that the grandparent not contact any family members about the situation, typically by saying “don’t tell Mom and Dad!” Often, the phone is then passed to someone who imitates a lawyer, doctor or police officer to “verify” the ruse and make it seem more convincing.

To execute this type of scam, fraudsters often “spoof” or imitate a grandchild’s Caller ID or area code so that the number or ID looks familiar to the person receiving the call. They also tend to call at night so that there’s a higher possibility that the grandparent will be disoriented and confused.

How can I protect my loved one from falling victim to a grandparent scam?

Any older adult can fall victim to this scam, including your loved one, and it happens more often than you might think. From 2015 to early 2020, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reported over 91,000 cases of scam artists posing as relatives to defraud victims. Depending on the demands of the scammers, money lost by individual victims has ranged from a few hundred dollars to over $15,000.

If you’re worried about your loved one falling prey to this kind of scam, an important first step is telling them this kind of scam is out there and to be wary of suspicious calls following the above-described pattern. It can help to show your loved one news stories about real life examples so they have a better idea of how the scam works.

You can also follow the below tips:

  • Come up with a family password and share it with your loved one’s grandchildren. If they ever are in a crisis, they can use the password to let their grandparent know the situation is real. Many scam artists will hang up if they’re asked “What’s the family password?” during the call.
  • Brainstorm questions your loved one can ask the caller that only the grandchild in question would know the answer to. Be sure to choose a question where the answer is not easy to find using social media or internet searches.
  • If your loved one and other relatives are on social media, encourage them to set their pages and profiles to private. This will make it harder for scammers to collect the information they need to make the scam believable.
  • Tell your loved one to contact you or someone else they trust if they ever receive this kind of call. You may be able to help verify or contradict what the caller is saying.
  • Suggest that your loved one hang up and call back using their grandchild’s contact information saved on their phone rather than the number that called them.
  • Remind your loved one to stay calm. If they are in a panic, they are more likely to miss giveaways like the caller having an unfamiliar voice or accent, or calling them “grandma” or “grandpa” instead of preferred endearments like “granny” or “poppy.”

What should I do if my loved one falls for a grandparent scam?

If your loved one becomes a victim of this scam, they may feel embarrassed and reluctant to talk about it or report it. Encourage them by reminding that their report can help authorities catch offenders. These scams can be reported by:

  • Calling your loved one’s local police precinct or your state’s attorney general
  • Filing a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) or FTC.
  • Contacting the company your loved one used to transfer money, such as Western Union. If the transaction hasn’t gone through, they may be able to cancel it

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