By BEN ADEL | Special to the Palisadian-Post
“Help Grandpa—I messed up and need money to make bail—don’t tell Mom and Dad please.”
“Please help me Grandma, I’m in the hospital, sick. I need money.”
These are examples of a very dangerous scam specifically targeting senior citizens. It is known as the grandparent scam, and authorities have been tracking it for about a decade.
Between 2015 and 2020, the Federal Trade Commission received 91,000 reports of these scams. The average amount scammed from each victim is $9,000, with one scammer in New York collecting more than $142,000 from just eight victims.
How the Grandparent Scam Works
- Those involved typically include:
- Vulnerable grandparent
- Con artist pretending to be a relative
- Additional con artist posing as an authority
Step 1: Contact a Trusting Senior
Contact from someone posing to be your grandchild, or representing them, can come in any form: text message, email, online chat, phone call and even in person. Some scams involve deep research into a subject on social media so they can throw in a few of your family details.
Others will simply call around until they reach someone who sounds like a senior and provides personal information to them, such as a grandchild’s name. Armed with these details, the grandparent scam becomes a plausible scenario.
Most recently, callers have been using COVID-19 as a cover for an unrecognizable voice or manner.
Step 2: A Distressing Situation Needs Your Secret Financial Help
A common script: “Grandma, I really messed up and am in police custody. Mom and Dad will disown me if they find out. Please don’t tell them. Will you help? I’m so scared.”
The grandparent scam will nearly always include a sudden high-stakes situation—an arrest, accident, dramatic illness, robbery or being stuck in a foreign country with no way to get home.
Step 3: The Phone Handoff
“Grandma, the police officer at the station here needs to speak with you … ”
Some of the most sophisticated scams involve one person pretending to be the grandchild, who then hands the phone over to the additional con artist acting as a police officer, lawyer or even a doctor, offering support for the caller’s claims.
Step 4: Please Send Money
A few recent scams have involved sending a “courier” to pick up the money directly from the victim’s house, or a bail bondsman knocking on the door and demanding payment, to make it seem more official and urgent. Some complex scams involve multiple calls and more than one transfer of funds.
Take, for example, the Michigan couple who sent $3,000 to their “grandson” who told them he was fined for fishing without a license in Canada. They sent another $30,000 when the scammer called back, claiming the Canadian authorities had found drugs and alcohol in his boat.
Warning Signs of The Grandparent Scam
- There is always a need for money or a gift card—no other support will be accepted.
- The scammer is always in very urgent need of the money—it cannot wait.
- The caller almost always asks the victim not to talk to anyone else about it, claiming embarrassment or even fear.
- The caller requires the money be sent by non-traceable/non-refundable methods, such as a moneygram or gift card.
The Suspicious Call: What Do I Say?
If you find yourself on a questionable call, listen to your instincts and keep this approach in mind:
- Don’t rush any decision to send money: Even the most dire of arrests can wait a
- Create a fail-safe way to verify the person’s identity. Ask for personal information that only you and your real relative can verify—something not posted on social media.
- Ask to call them right back, then dial your grandchild’s number. Even if the caller ends up actually being your relative in need, this is a teaching moment in a world where fraud absolutely exists.
I’m a Fraud Victim, What Can I Do Now?
If you are a victim of the grandparent scam or other fraud, you can contact the company you sent the money through, such as Western Union’s fraud hotline 800-448-1492 or MoneyGram at 800-926-9400. You can also contact your local police department to make a report.
On a very personal level, those of us providing services to senior communities know how dangerous these scams have become to adults old and young. We encourage all to help your fellow senior citizens by reporting scams to the FTC, your state’s Attorney General and your state’s consumer protection office.
Ben Adel is founder of Luxe Homecare, a Pacific Palisades-based homecare agency offering services in Los Angeles, Orange County and Riverside. They offer round-the-clock support, including registered nurses (RN and LVN) and rehabilitation services. We require background checks for all of our staff to protect your loved ones from fraud. Contact the Luxe team at 310-459-3535 or visit luxehomecare.com.
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