Scammers Continue to Target Older Consumers by Pretending to Be Grandchildren in Trouble
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Scammers Continue to Target Older Consumers by Pretending to Be Grandchildren in Trouble

In every version of this scam, the con artist plays on the emotions of a potential victim in order to get a fast response and easy payday

July 27, 2021

Scammers are always looking for a way to make a quick buck. Unfortunately, they know that older consumers are some of the best victims. If there are older folks in your life, make sure to talk to them about the grandparent scam. Scammers call older consumers, especially those with cognitive problems, pretending to be their grandchildren, stealing money and sensitive personal information in minutes.

The Phony Grandchild

Nearly every version of this scam starts with a phone call from the victim's grandchild. Unfortunately, it's only a con artist pretending to be a grandchild. You may think that it would be easy to spot the scam, but the scammers are skilled at what they do. And older consumers who may have some cognitive decline may not recognize what's going on until it's too late.

It's not always a fake grandchild. Sometimes the scammers pretend to be friends of the grandchild, other family members, or even clergy members.

Variations of the Ploy

The scammer may claim to be a grandchild who has gotten into trouble while traveling overseas, needing immediate money in order to get out of a bind. The scammer may use phrases like "don't you know me grandpa" or "please don't tell mom and dad" in order to make the victim feel pressured or guilty. That's when the scammer closes in.

In other cases, the scammer pretends to be a grandchild who caused a bad accident that injured a foreign tourist vising the United States. Even worse, the scammer claims to be in a local jail until the tourist's medical bill has been paid. This is when the pressure tactics kick in and the victim is instructed to make a payment.

In another variation of the scheme, the scammer claims to be leaving a funeral in a car with friends before becoming involved in a crash. The scammer then asks for money in order to post bail after being arrested for drunk driving or possession of drugs. Afterwards, another scammer calls claiming to be an attorney or law enforcement officer, usually frightening the victim into sending the money.

Playing on the emotions of a potential victim

In every version of this scam, the con artist is playing to the emotions of the victim. In this case, that victim is a grandparent who wants to help a grandchild. The scammers often exploit cognitive decline in older victims, guilting the victim who may not remember the grandchild into paying large amounts of money via an overseas wire transfer or gift cards. Financial loses can range from a few hundred dollars to a thousands of dollars.

Wire Transfers and Gift Card Payments

Scammers love to have their victims send money via a wire transfer or via gift cards since the money is impossible to trace or recover. Unlike paying with a credit card, wire transfers and gift cards don't have consumer protections. So as soon as the wire transfer is sent or as soon as the scammer has the gift card numbers, your money is gone and there's no way to get it back.

If someone insists that you pay one particular way, you're probably dealing with a scammer. If someone insists that you pay with a gift card, you are certainly dealing with a scammer.

Verify the caller

Any time you receive a request for anything, whether it's money or personal information, you should always be skeptical. This goes for any time you receive a phone call, text message, email or even a visit from a stranger, regardless of who the person claims to be. Scammers are great at what they do and can play to your emotions before you've had a chance to check their stories. And it's easy for them to get a few basic tidbits of information about you and your family through the Internet.

If you doubt the identity of someone making a request, ask questions that only a real family member would know. And always try to make contact with the person who is allegedly in need of assistance directly via a phone number you know to be genuine. If you are unable to make contact, reach out to another family member.

Most importantly, NEVER give out personal information to anyone who contacts you if you didn't make a request.

Warning signs and red flags

  • The call comes late at night.
  • The grandchild is facing some kind of legal trouble and needs money immediately.
  • The victim receives clear instructions on how to send money, which is most often via wire transfer or gift cards.
  • The grandchild is far from home.
  • The caller asks that parents are not contacted due to fear of punishment.
  • The victim is referred to an authority figure to make payment e.g. lawyer, judge, or law enforcement officer.
  • If the victim does pay, additional requests for more money will follow for any number of reasons.
  • The caller may make a threat, direct or implied.