Sections on this page
- How the Grandparent Scam Works
- How to Beat and Avoid the Grandparent Scam
- Examples of Grandparent Scams
- Have You Fallen For This Scam?
- Frequently Asked Questions
Across the nation, state attorney generals are issuing warnings about the latest version of the "grandparent scam" in the coronavirus pandemic era. To keep your money safe from scammers, it's important to always verify that you're talking to who you think you're talking to. Call the person they claim to be—whether your nephew, granddaughter or another relative—and confirm it was actually them who asked for the money.
How the Grandparent Scam Works
These scams targeting seniors come in many forms, but all have the common goal of stealing money from the elderly. Here's how the scam works.
You Get a Phone Call From a "Relative"
A scammer calls a senior citizen in the grandparent scam and poses as a panicked grandchild, another relative, or close friend.
The scammer likely won't use a name but instead greet you with something like, "It's your grandson," and rely on you to say the name. Although the voice may sound different or wrong, the scammer persuades you it's due to some illness, whether a cold or COVID-19.
"Oh, Michael? Is that you?"
"Yes, it's me, Grandad."
"Oh, you sound different, are you feeling ok?"
"No, I'm not actually. I've gotten really sick, which is why I'm calling. I got really sick and have missed a few weeks of work. I don't think I can make rent this month so I wasn't wondering if I could borrow some money and pay it back as soon as I'm back at work."
"Oh of course, Mikey, how much do you need?"
"Thanks Grandad. I think $1,000 will be enough. Also, I really don't want Mom and Dad to know. I don't want them to worry or think I can't look after myself, so if we can keep this between us I would really appreciate it."
They Ask for Money
The alleged friend or relative takes advantage of a new sense of urgency due to the pandemic and explains their recent health problems, legal issues, or travel troubles. Then, they urge you to wire money immediately, so they can post bail, cover lawyer's fees, pay hospital charges, leave a foreign country or another fictitious concern.
The scammer uses emotion to persuade you to act quickly and send funds before realizing it's a scam.
Often, the scammer begs for secrecy or mentions a legal order wherein you should refrain from discussing the matter with anyone else. They may also put someone else on the line who pretends to be a lawyer or law enforcement officer involved in the issue.
The scammer, or the lawyer or law enforcement officer, typically asks for several thousand dollars. If you fall victim to the grandparent scam, the scammer may continue to call you to scam you out of even more money.
You Give Them Money
In most cases, the scammer will ask you to wire them money, but there's also a new twist to the grandparent scam where scammers demand immediate cash and want to pick it up in person. An alleged bail bond agent or attorney will show up at the senior citizen's home, which increases the risk of you, the victim.
Many victims realize much later that they've been the victim of a scam. They usually only figure this out when they speak to the actual relative in question.
Once you give them the money, there's no way to get it back, even if you quickly discover it's a scam.
How to Beat and Avoid the Grandparent Scam
Although this scam can be dangerous, it's also easy to beat as long as you stay aware and alert. Remember, these scammers are pretending to be someone they don't even know, so you should be able to bust the scam wide open before losing your money.
Beat the Grandparent Scam
If you realize you're speaking to a scammer or even have the slightest doubt that you're talking to your relative or friend, you should hang up immediately and never, under any circumstances, give them money.
Additionally, you should:
- Block and report the scam, so they don't try to call you again.
- Install a scam blocker app on your phone.
- Only pick up calls from numbers you trust. If it's a legitimate caller, they will leave a voicemail which you can check later.
- Never reveal your address or personal information if you feel skeptical about the person on the other line. If they're requesting cash, especially in the form of a gift card or money transfer, it is likely a scam of sorts.
- Check your privacy settings for each of your social media accounts and limit the amount of information you share publicly. Even though you might have your settings on private, you could still be revealing personal identifiers scammers can use against you.
Look Out for Red Flags
It's essential to listen to your gut when a phone call seems suspicious. Take precautions and ask yourself the following questions in order not to fall for the grandparent scam.
Does your relative/friend usually call you like this? Is it unusual for you to receive a phone call from this person? Perhaps they typically call on video chat, or maybe they just left your house, making it very strange for them to contact you at this time. If something seems off, don't be afraid to question it.
Did they show up on caller ID? If your relative's name usually pops up when they call you, this time should be no different. If an unknown number showed up or it was a private number, you should take caution.
Do they sound different? Although the scammer will have an excuse as to why their voice and even accent have changed, always listen to your gut if something seems off about how they sound.
Does their story sound legit? Listen closely to the story they're feeding you and consider every aspect of it. Does it all make sense to you? For example, if someone was posing as your nephew saying they need money for rent, but your nephew is only 12 and isn't moving out any time soon, that's a sure-fire red flag. Don't believe everything you hear.
How do they want the money? Scammers will usually demand wire transfers, and it will be easy for you to tell whether it's actually your relative at this point. If it was someone you know, the account you're transferring it to should be in their name. Further, if they live close to you but still refuse to pick cash up themselves, it's a red flag.
How to Confirm Their Identity
If you're questioning whether the caller is, in fact, someone you know and trust, here are some things you can do to confirm their identity:
- Tell them you need to call them back: If they're the real deal, they should have no problem with you calling them back at their regular number.
- Call another relative to confirm the story.
- Don't give up their name: If they greet you with something like, "It's your grandson," don't say their name. Wait for them to say their name first.
- Ask them questions that only an actual relative or friend could answer.
Don't be afraid to ask them questions about their situation. After all, they're the ones asking for money and shouldn't have a problem with answering your questions about why they need it.
Examples of Grandparent Scams
Grandparent scams aren't new—scammers have been targeting the elderly for decades, taking advantage of their lack of knowledge about scams and their caring nature towards their grandchildren.
Here is a tragic story of grandparents scammed out of $550 after thinking their grandson had been in a car accident.
Some stories are much more severe. One woman was scammed out of $19,000 after the scammer, pretending to be her grandson, continued to call her after she fell for the trick the first time. She continued to deposit money into her fake grandson's attorney's bank account until she finally became suspicious and called his mother.
Have You Fallen For This Scam?
If you've been the victim of the grandparent scam, you've likely sent wired funds through services such as Western Union or MoneyGram. Although you can't trace the scammer, you should contact the money transfer service you used to report the scam immediately.
You can report the fraud and file a complaint by calling:
- MoneyGram at 800-666-3947
- Western Union at 800-448-1492
You may be able to reverse the transfer, but only if the scammer hasn't already taken it.
When the grandparent scam is successful, it's a crime. If you were the victim, you should file a report with local law enforcement and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).