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What Your Loved Ones Need to Know About the "Grandparent Scam"

What Your Loved Ones Need to Know About the "Grandparent Scam"


It usually happens in the middle of the night or early hours of the morning. Your mom wakes up to the sound of the phone ringing and decides to answer it. On the other line is a person claiming to be her grandson or granddaughter. They say they’re in trouble. Maybe it’s because they’re in Canada and their car is broken down, or that they’ve been arrested and need bail money, or that they’ve been mugged while traveling abroad and are in desperate need of cash.

Disoriented, confused, and shocked, your mom or dad may believe all these scenarios to be true. They may then wire the requested funds through services like Western Union or MoneyGram, and once that happens...

The money’s gone. Forever.

It is unfortunate that so many people fall for the aptly named “grandparent scam.” No matter your age, it can be difficult to recognize the sound of someone’s voice over the phone, especially when the caller is insisting they’re somebody you know. Additionally, by calling late at night, your parent’s guard is more likely to be down and the urgency of the caller’s tone will pressure them to act quickly without thinking.

What you can do.

We recommend taking a moment to sit down and talk with your parents about what to do in the event they receive such a call. Emphasize three things in your conversation:

  1. Contact a family member before acting, to determine if the call is legitimate. Stress the importance of resisting the urge to act quickly without verifying.
  2. Never wire money based on a request made over the phone, no matter what the caller may be saying, or how quickly they're insisting they need the money.
  3. Know the low likelihood that a family member would request a wire transfer over the phone, even if they needed money in an emergency. Discuss with your parent that their grandchildren and other loved ones have a number of options for getting money quickly (credit card, local friends/family, etc.) and that they wouldn't need to request a wire transfer.

Keep in mind that in the midst of a late night call from someone needing help, it might be hard for mom or dad to remember this conversation you had about scammers. Put a list of reminders next to their phone to encourage them to hang up the phone and call you if they’re concerned about a potential scam.

It’s estimated that older adults are robbed of roughly $3 billion a year in financial scams. Phone scams, such as the grandparent scam, are typically operated outside the U.S., and scammers can usually find the personal information they need about you and your family by buying it online. Help your parents understand that someone on the phone should not be trusted just because they know personal information about their family.

If your loved one does happen to fall victim to the grandparent scam, experts recommend contacting Adult Protective Services or local law enforcement. Doing so can be imperative in identifying the culprits, and provides much needed information on the pattern and behavior of scammers and con-artists.

Keep in mind that reporting a scam won't likely return the stolen funds. The best solution is to help your parents understand when someone is trying to scam them and to make sure they're prepared to react appropriately and stop the scam before it happens.

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