Grandparent Phone Scam Puts Seniors at High Risk

If you were in a crisis and needed help, who's the first person you'd call?

Most people immediately think of a family member, whether it be a sibling, parent - or grandparent. Elderly Woman

And that's just what phone scammers are counting on when they target elderly victims with what's been dubbed the "Grandparent Scam." It's one of many schemes costing senior citizens an estimated $36 billion, according to True Link Financial.

Americans age 65 and older are at particular risk because fraudsters know they typically own a home and have a "nest egg" built up. And are generally too polite and trusting to hang up on a caller.

Unfortunately, statistics show this ageist targeting works. Elderly victims are more likely to lose money once targeted than younger age groups, says the National Center for Victims of Crime.

What is the Grandparent Phone Scam

So - just how does the Grandparent Phone Scam work? By playing on the emotions of its victims.

Scammers will call their target and say something along the lines of, "Hi, Grandpa, do you know who this is? It's your granddaughter."

And when the grandparent guesses the name of the grandchild the scam caller most sounds like, they're in - no research needed. They pick up that identity and pretend to be in trouble, perhaps in an accident, on vacation without a passport or behind on rent.

The scammer asks for financial help via wire transfer, and may ask the grandparent to keep the transaction confidential, citing that "my parents will kill me!"

To bolster their ruse even further, scammers may pull information on the grandchild from social media. And work with associates who'll pose as law enforcement or legal officials involved in the "emergency."

Why the Grandparent Phone Scam is so effective

This particular scam is extremely effective - and not just because the initial call is so convincing.

Even if they realize they've been scammed, the FBI reports that senior citizens are less likely to report a fraud because they don't know how to report it, or are too ashamed to admit they've been tricked. They may be especially concerned that relatives will doubt their mental capacity to be independent.

And those that do report the fraud only do so after realizing weeks or months after. With little memory of the call to assist investigators.

How to protect against scam callers

The best way for you or an elderly loved one to avoid falling victim to these types of scams is by knowing the red flags described above. And never giving out financial information over the telephone or wiring money to an unverified recipient.

To verify the identity of a caller, ask difficult questions only your loved one would know or try calling them back directly. You can also look up any number in CallerSmart's reverse phone tracer to check for suspicious activity.

If you suspect you've been contacted by a scammer - hang up immediately and report the occurrence to the FTC's Complaint Center. Then, report the number in our community phonebook by downloading CallerSmart's free reverse iPhone phone lookup app. If you don't have an iPhone you can still run a reverse number look up and leave your feedback on our website to protect others from falling victim to the same scam.