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The Grandparent Scam

Grandparents love their grandchildren, and often act impulsively to help them through any troubles they may be experiencing.  Unfortunately, scammers know this, and have no problem using that love for their own benefit.

What is the Grandparent Scam?

The Grandparent Scam begins with a phone call, typically late at night or very early in the morning, when the victim is roused from sleep and therefore likely in a confused state.  A frantic voice, claiming to be a grandchild, will spill a fraudulent story and request money for help.  Popular scenarios include traveling outside the country and having car accidents, being robbed, being arrested, etc.  The victim will be told not to inform the parents.  The scammer will ask for money to be sent via wire transfer or gift cards.  According to the Federal Trade Commission, when someone requests money in this manner, it is always a scam!

There may be several variations to this scam, such as receiving an email rather than a phone call, or the scammer claiming to be another relative other than a grandchild, or a doctor or lawyer calling on their behalf.  Sometimes, instead of requesting money via wire transfer or gift cards, the victim will be instructed to place the cash in an envelope to be picked up at their home.

Scammers have the potential to manipulate caller ID so it may appear the call is coming from a familiar number.  The FBI warns that scammers often glean information from social media so they can pepper the conversation with some true facts, further giving the impression that they are who they claim to be.

How can I avoid falling for the Grandparent Scam?

  • First and foremost, keep your cool.  Though easier said than done when facing the fear that a beloved relative is in trouble, remaining calm will help you spot the warning signs to understand that this is a scam.
  • Get off the phone right away and call the relative in question, or another family member who might have been in recent contact with that person. This will ease your mind and keep you from worrying that your grandchild is in trouble and needs your help.
  • Refrain from giving your address, or any other personal information, away to someone on the other end of the line who cannot be verified, even if you believe it to be your grandchild.

What should I do if I have already lost money through the Grandparent Scam?

Victims of this scam often lose several thousand dollars that are virtually untraceable because they are given by wire transfer, gift cards, or cash.  Once the funds are relinquished, you can not get them back.  There are a few things you can do, however, to alert the authorities and aid in the capture of the scammers.

  • File a report with your local police department
  • File a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3)
  • Report it to the Federal Trade Commission
  • If you paid via Western Union, call their fraud hotline (800-448-1492)
  • If you paid via MoneyGram, call their fraud hotline (800-926-9400)

Scammers abound these days, and this is only one of many that target the older population.  Knowing the warning signs to look for will help keep you protected from inadvertently losing your money.

If you have questions and do not know what to do, please feel free to contact us.