Fraud Prevention Tips

Grandparent Scams: What They Are and How To Beat Them

(5 Minute Read) – Earlier this week was Respect for Parents Day. It’s a moment to honor the people who helped us become the people we are today. That includes our parents and our grandparents. What better way to support them than to share information about how to protect the elders in our lives from Grandparent Scams?

This post will help you explain what a grandparent scam is, how to recognize one, how to stay safe, and what to do if you or someone you know has experienced a grandparent scam.

What is a grandparent scam?

Scammers know how loving and nurturing grandparents are. They aim to use those loving instincts against grandma and grandpa, posing as a family member who needs money fast. They often mine information from social media and other public sources in order to spin a tragic yarn that compels grandma or grandpa to send financial support immediately.

What’s more, fraudsters regularly update their methods to scam grandparents. For instance, they can now use technology to “spoof” the caller ID, so the real grandchild’s name shows up when they call. This makes it all the more convincing. Further, while they would usually request money via wire transfer or pre-paid gift cards, they now sometimes come directly to grandma or grandpa’s home to collect the money.

What are common grandparent scams?

Here are some examples of common grandparent scams:

  1. The “legal trouble” scam. Fraudsters often work in tandem for this one. The caller claims they are a grandchild who has just been arrested. This sets up their plea for grandma or grandpa to send money to post bail. Here’s where they pass the phone to someone who claims they are the child’s attorney. This speaker will ask for cash and likely dictate the terms of delivery. As mentioned above, they might even visit the grandparent’s home to pick up the cash in person.
  2. The “medical trouble” scam. The caller claims they are a grandchild who has just been seriously injured. They tell a convincing tale about where, when, and how it all happened, leading to the big ask: that their grandparent quickly wire them thousands of dollars to pay the medical bills.
  3. The “international trouble” scam. The caller claims they are a grandchild who is in a foreign nation, and in deep trouble for reasons they can’t explain right now. They urgently request that their grandparent send a large sum of money in the mail to a specific address to help them get out safely.

What do each of these scams have in common? They all spell trouble. The good news is that there are proven ways to steer clear of these devious misdeeds.

How can I protect against grandparent scams?

With a discerning eye, you can protect yourself against grandparent scams. Follow these four rules to stay safe.

If someone contacts you or your grandparent claiming to be a grandchild or other family member desperately in need of quick money:

  1. Resist the urge to act immediately. No matter how dramatic the story is, stop and collect information. Your most effective protection against this scam is to verify the facts before acting. This exposes the lies in the scammer’s story.
  2. Verify the facts. To make sure the caller is who they claim to be, ask a question about them that a stranger couldn’t possibly answer. Further, hang up and call them member back at their own phone number. And don’t stop there! Check with someone else in your family or circle of friends, to see if this story checks out. Believe it or not, grandparent scammers have often been caught by just this simple act of verification, which revealed their story was false.
  3. Stop and pause before sending cash, gift cards, or money transfers. Even if you’ve collected the information, verified the story, and you think it all checks out, pause for one last moment before sending the money. Once the scammer gets the money, it’s gone! Keep in mind this advice from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC):

    “Anyone who asks you to pay by gift card or money transfer is a scammer. Always.”
  4. Leave your door closed for people you don’t know. You are under no obligation to open your door for a stranger. You can stop a scam simply by avoiding initial contact with the scammer.

What if I’m the victim of a grandparent scam?

If you’ve fallen victim to a grandparent scam:

  1. Call the police immediately and give them as much information as you can.
  2. The FTC recommends that you file a complaint online at ftc.gov.
  3. If you prefer, you can also call the Attorney General’s Consumer Hotline at 1-877-877-9392 and ask that a complaint form be mailed to you.

Now you know how to suss out a grandparent scam in progress. As a good friend and family member, share this information with the grandparents in your life so they can keep their hard-earned money where it belongs – safely in their possession!

To learn more about other types of common scams to be aware of, be sure to visit our Security page.

This is just the first week of our August Against Fraud series, where we break down a new scam every week throughout August. Stay tuned every Monday in August to learn how to stop fraud in its tracks. And follow our social media feeds all month long (like Facebook and Instagram) for more helpful fraud-busting information, quizzes, and other insights to stay safe and well. We’ll see you next week.


About the author: DJ Jones

DJ joined the Unitus Community Credit Union family in May 2018 to lead the Fraud & Security Department.

She brings over twenty-five years’ experience in investigations with a background that encompasses data breach remediation, identity theft restoration, insurance and legal investigations and financial services.

Originally from Alabama (Roll Tide!), Portland has been her home for 20 years. She and her wife are self-described foodies that love to travel and explore.

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