What is the Grandparents scam and how do I avoid it?


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There are so many scams targeting the elderly, one of the most recent being the grandparents scams.

This scam involves being called by someone posing as the grandchild of the victim and requesting money. In 2015, the FTC received over 10,000 family or friend imposter fraud complaints. It is probably an even higher number as many people are too embarrassed to report these. There are ways to avoid falling victim to this scam though if you know what to look out for.

What to look out for with the Grandparent scam

When the supposed grandchild calls, they often will not say their name and wait for it to be filled in. For example, they will ask “Do you know who this is?” and the grandparent will respond with the name of one of their grandchildren. From there on the scammer will act as this person. If you find yourself in this situation, you should always make the caller say their name first, sometimes this will scare the scammers, and they will just hang up.

Next, the caller will say they are in trouble, usually in jail or in the hospital. The common excuses given are arrests due to drugs, a DUI, or fighting. They will be requesting money right away for bail or hospital bills.

They will also ask that you not tell anyone, to keep it a secret. They will say they are either embarrassed or don’t want their mom or dad to know they are in trouble. This is to try and persuade the grandparent from calling anyone to double check the story.

If you bring up the fact that they do not sound like your grandchild, they will explain this away, saying something like “My nose got broken, so I don’t sounds like myself.”

They also usually mention an authority figure, like a lawyer or police being with them during the call. They will sometimes put them on the phone to make it seem more legitimate.

Scammers sometimes call late at night to confuse the grandparents and catch them not fully aware.

If it does seem as though the scam is working, they will usually instruct the grandparent to go to the closest place to wire money – this is the most popular way they request money. Usually if the first request is wired, the scammers will call again and ask for more and more, until money stops getting sent.

What can I do if I get a scamming call?

There are a few things you can do on the phone to try and figure out if it is a legitimate call or not including:

  • Asking personal questions, such as a pets name, that only someone in the family would know.
  • Ask them to repeat the story. Most of the time, they will not be able to remember the details, and you can catch them in a lie.
  • Threaten to call the police. Scammers will sometimes hang up if they hear this.
  • Call others in your family to double check the story. Even though they asked you to keep it a secret, it is still important to make sure the call is real.

Scammers are doing this because it is working. Doug Shadel of AARP said, “We’ve had doctors and lawyers fall for this. It doesn’t matter what your educational level is because it triggers something emotional, it causes you to act.”

They can know you name, your grandchildren’s name, where they live, their phone numbers, and sometimes even some more personal information.  They either buy or steal this info. They will even search through people’s social media accounts to get information, such as Facebook or Twitter.

It can be hard to catch these criminals, especially because most of them are based outside the United States. They will also often disguise their phone numbers with more familiar numbers, such as a similar area code or one that you would recognize. That means there is also no way to trace the number.

Anyone who believes they have been a victim of the grandparents scam should report this to local law enforcement, the state attorney general, and online or by phone at 1-877-5-NO-SCAM.

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