Beware the Grandparent Scam

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on October 27, 2015 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A call from family can warm a grandparent's heart. That is, of course, if the caller is actually family. All too often these days, a caller is a con man or woman, posing as a grandchild in need, in order to scam money from trusting and protective grandparents.

The grandparent scam has become more and more pervasive in recent years, preying on the best intentions of vulnerable senior citizens. Here are some ways to identify the scam and protect yourself and your loved ones.

"Hi Grandma -- I Need Money"

The scam works like this: a grandparent receives a call, normally at odd hours to take advantage of his or her confusion, from a person posing as the grandchild; the grandchild says they are in financial trouble, usually abroad, and needs help fast; the grandparent wires some money, sometimes in the tens of thousands, and never sees the money again.

As insidious as the shakedown is, it is far from the perfect crime and there are ways to prevent it:

  • Be careful what you share -- scammers often use information from social media (like names, personal details, and travel information) to convince a grandparent they are who they say they are and that the danger is real.
  • Be sure of who it is -- scammers may have some personal details, but not all of them; asking more questions, calling the supposed grandchild's phone number, or calling another relative to confirm a story can reveal the ruse.
  • Be wary of wire transfers -- scammers will want the money sent via Western Union, MoneyGram, or some other wire transfer service because they are difficult to track and work the same as cash.

Holiday High Alert

Scammers in general and grandparent scammers especially tend to work more around holidays. The grandparent scam is prevalent around school holidays like Thanksgiving, when the mock grandchild can ask for gift or travel money. And it spikes around spring break, when scammers can frighten grandparents with tales of jail and physical danger.

Talking to your elderly family members often about the scam and the ways to combat it, especially around the holidays, is essential. Sharing travel plans, contact information, and possibly creating a code word for emergencies can all help to keep loved ones safe from the grandparent scam.

If you think your parents or grandparents have been the victim of a scam, you should contact the police. And you may want to talk to an experienced consumer protection attorney as well.

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