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Grandparent Phone Scam Puts Seniors at High Risk



09 Mar 2016

Elderly Woman

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’s a sibling, parent, or grandparent. Phone scammers count on the love of a grandparent when they target elderly victims with the "Grandparent Scam." The scheme costs senior citizens an estimated $36 billion, according to True Link Financial.

A recent report claims an average loss of $9,000. Americans age 65 and older tend to be high risk because fraudsters know they typically own a home and have a "nest egg." Unfortunately, statistics show that ageist scams work. The National Center for Victims of Crime states that elderly victims are more likely to lose money than younger age groups.

Fraudsters hope a senior citizen will give into panic or emotion and fall into the scheme without question. Additionally, the con artist assumes that the senior may not be sharp or coherent enough to think the call is a scam. If the grandparent balks, the caller becomes more insistent or hysterical.

What Is the Grandparent Phone Scam

The Grandparent (or Grandparents) scam works by playing on the emotions of its victims. Scammers will call a target and say something along the lines of, "Hi, Grandma, do you know who this is? It's your granddaughter."

When the grandparent guesses the name of the grandchild, the imposter assumes the identity of the child. Perhaps the imposter knows information about the grandchild through social media sites. The scammer pretends to be in some kind of trouble such as being involved in a car accident, needs bail money after getting arrested, falling behind on rent or losing a passport while on vacation.

The scammer says she needs money and asks for financial help. She says Grandma or Grandpa can send the money through a wire transfer service like MoneyGram or Western Union or with a credit card or gift card. The impostor may ask the grandparent to keep the transaction confidential, citing "My parents will kill me!"

To bolster the 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.

Verify the Emergency

If anyone calls claiming to be in a crisis, it’s important to verify the emergency. Use the following tactics:

  • Check the person’s identity. Grandparents may not recognize their grandchild’s voice. As a form of protection, ask questions that only a family member or close friend would know.
  • Offer to return the call directly. Scammers usually won’t allow a return call.
  • Take the time to trace the phone number through CallerSmart's cell phone number tracing app. If you don't have an iPhone, you can still run a phone number trace on the website and check for complaints against the number.
  • Call the child on his/her personal phone number.
  • Check with the child’s parents.
  • If the call involves an arrest, look up the number of the police station, call them directly, and ask questions.
  • Refuse to send money, no matter how dire the situation. Require proof of the emergency.
  • Be aware that sending money will not help in certain situations, like the immediate replacement of a passport.
  • Do not give out bank account, credit card or other financial information. Keep personal information such as Social Security numbers private.
  • If you receive a suspicious call, hang up immediately.

What To Do If You or Someone You Love Falls for a Scam

Once a person falls for a scam, he/she becomes a target for other scammers. If an older person sends money to protect a grandchild, the next scam may involve Medicare or Social Security. Con artists develop new scams regularly and can become threatening or dangerous if their demands aren’t met.

If you are a victim or have information on a scam, report it immediately to local law enforcement, the State Attorney General’s office, and the Federal Trade Commission’s Internet Complaint Assistant or by calling 1-877-FTC-HELP. You can also leave feedback about specific phone numbers on our website. If you live in New Zealand, here are a list of resources to help you. 

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