This story was first published on April 10, 2015
Reports indicate that so-called “grandparent” scams are increasingly common.
Here’s how a typical grandparent scam plays out.
The grandparent receives an unexpected phone call from a person claiming to be a grandson or granddaughter. The ‘grandchild’ will often claim to be travelling overseas.
The scammer – posing as a distraught grandchild – will invent a fictional tale explaining why he or she needs money urgently.
For example, the ‘grandchild’ may claim that he has been in a car accident and may be assaulted or held against his will by the other driver if money to cover damage to the vehicle is not paid immediately.
Or, she may claim that she will be arrested for drug possession or other offences and thrown in a foreign gaol unless a ‘fine’ is paid within a few hours.
Or, he may claim that he has been mugged and had all his possessions – including his passport and wallet – stolen and needs money to pay for medical treatment and get home.
Or she may claim that she has been kidnapped and a ransom must be paid for her release.
In many cases, the scammer will use one or more accomplices to make the scenarios seem more plausible. For example, after a brief conversation with the grandparent, the ‘grandchild’ will pass the phone over to a ‘police officer’, ‘kidnapper’, ‘angry accident victim’, or ’embassy official’.
The ‘grandchild’s portion of the conversation may be deliberately muffled. If the victim suggests that the caller does not sound like his or her grandchild, the scammer may point to a poor phone connection as the reason. Or the ‘grandchild may claim that she has sustained a facial injury such as broken nose that is making her voice sound different.
After stressing that the matter is urgent and the required funds must be sent immediately, the accomplice will tell the grandparent how to send the money.
Typically, the grandparent will be told to go out and buy one or more prepaid Green Dot debit cards and then call the scammer back. The scammer will ask for the number on the back of the card and then transfer the card’s funds to his or her own account.
Alternatively, the grandparent may be asked to transfer the money via a money wire system such as Western Union.
In many cases, the scammers may have researched the family of potential victims by accessing social media sites such as Facebook. For example, a grandson’s Facebook posts may reveal that he is currently travelling in South America. Other posts may mention grandma and perhaps point to her own Facebook profile. The scammer may then be able to identify grandma’s name and location and find out her phone number via a phone directory.
The scammer can then place a call to grandma and come up with a plausible story based on information lifted from the family’s social media feeds.
Of course, many grandparents will be far too astute to fall for such scams and will know immediately that the person on the line is not their grandchild.
Nevertheless, elderly and vulnerable grandparents do regularly fall for the scam and are panicked into sending their money to criminals.
Scammers may also target other family members such as aunts and uncles, cousins, or even parents.
To avoid becoming a victim, don’t be intimidated into acting immediately. Attempt to contact the grandchild directly or talk to other family members to determine if the call is legitimate. Any claim that you must pay money over the phone immediately – regardless of the cover story used – should be treated with the utmost suspicion.
If you have elderly relatives that you feel may be vulnerable to such a scam, be sure to discuss the issue with them.