Fraudulent activity exists everywhere but nowhere more so than the internet. Recognizing the signs and the scams can help protect you and your money. Grandparent scams involve fraudulent individuals posing as your grandchildren.
What is a Grandparent Scam and How Does it Work?
Grandparent scams are any scams where a caller pretends to be your grandchild and tries to get money from you as the grandparent.
“Grandchild In Trouble” Scam
The most common grandparent scam is when someone calls pretending to be the grandchild, calling from a friend’s cell phone, stating they need money as soon as possible. Usually, the story involves an arrest, a car accident, being out of the country and losing all their money, or being mugged.
“Fake Accident” Scam
This type of grandparent scam involves a ploy where someone pretends that there has been an accident involving a grandchild. The scam artist then asks grandparents to send or wire money to help the child. These grandparent scams can take on many forms depending on the perpetrator. For example:
- Some perpetrators will call from a cell phone and claim to be a close friend of the grandchild, calling on behalf of that same grandchild.
- Some perpetrators call and pretend to be a doctor at a hospital where the grandchild has been brought. With these scams, the perpetrators might request money for whatever medical procedures purportedly have to be done.
- Some perpetrators call impersonating an arresting officer stating that the grandchild has been arrested and the grandparents need to send money for bail.
- Other perpetrators will call and pretend to be the grandchild themselves, stating that they are arrested, in a hospital, or had an accident that requires money to be sent immediately.
“Kidnapping and Ransom” Scam
One common grandparent scam is to call and pretend that the grandchild has been kidnapped and demand a ransom. Professional outfits will reach out to grandchildren ahead of time and tell them they have to turn off their phones for maintenance.
How to Protect Yourself From Grandparent Scam
The best ways to protect yourself against a grandparent scam involve understanding red flags, preparing for emergencies, and taking preventative action against scammers.
Preventative action can be one of the most important steps. You should never give personal information over the phone to anyone asking questions about your grandchildren. You should also avoid sharing personal information on social media. If you broadcast pictures, names, and vacation plans for grandparents, it can make it easier for scammers to get a hold of that information and use it against you.
Always avoid impulsive decisions. Knowing common red flags can help you prepare for scam calls. If you don’t know the number, ask to speak with the grandchild or ask them to confirm something about the grandchild. This is a useful countermeasure if you are speaking to someone who claims to be their friend.
Never wire money to anyone, especially if they ask you to do so over the phone or via email. If they ask you to wire money, download an app, or register for a third-party e-wallet, that’s a huge red flag.
One of the best ways to protect yourself from a grandparent scam is to understand how emergencies work.
For starters, apply logic to any situation involving a purported emergency. Anyone who has been to a hospital had a medical emergency, or received medical care should be able to logically confirm that doctors do not call family members directly asking for money.
Similarly, police officers who have made an arrest do not go out of their way to call the family members of the person they arrested and ask for bail money.
Before a grandparent scam happens, you can even speak with your local hospitals or police stations to confirm their procedures.
Establish countermeasures for situations that might arise in the future. If you can prepare yourself mentally with appropriate countermeasures, you will remain much more stable if someone calls perpetrating a grandparent scam.
- If someone calls stating that there has been an accident, ask specific questions like which hospital they are at or which precinct they were taken to. Under legitimate emergencies, this information will be readily available. If you are unsure, you can phone the respective hospitals or police stations on a separate line to confirm what has happened. With grandparent scams, the person on the other end is unlikely to supply you with that information, and even if they do, you can still phone the alleged hospital or police precinct.
- Don’t be afraid to reach out to other family members. If your grandchild claims to be in trouble, you can tell them that you are willing to help while having someone else call another family member to confirm the story. Even if the grandchild’s phone is off, another family member might be able to confirm that they are currently online, sitting in the other room, not out of the country, and so forth. If you tell the person on the phone that you have to call another family member first, and they react aggressively, it is often a sign that it’s a scam.
- Set up a code phrase with your family. Pick a word that would not be used under normal circumstances and make sure everyone knows that in the event of a true emergency, they just have to find a way to put that word into the discussion. This can help away any doubts about kidnapping and Ransom attempts.
What to Do if You Have Fallen Victim to Grandparent Scam
If you have been the victim of a grandparents scam, there are several steps you can follow.
- First, you can cancel the payment if you sent any money through services like Western Union and it hasn’t yet been picked up. You can try to cancel payment on electronic funds or report the scam to your financial company immediately.
- Second, contact your local authorities and the state Consumer Protection Agency where you live.
- Third, file official complaints with the Internet Crime Complaint Center.
Grandparents scams are quite popular, but you can protect yourself by limiting what information you share. If you get phone calls from numbers you don’t recognize claiming that they need help for your grandchild, be sure not to offer additional information, especially if the caller uses vague language like “it’s your favorite grandchild” or “I’m a friend of your grandchild.” The more countermeasures you have in place and the more preparation you have for legitimate emergencies, the better you’ll be able to respond.
David Lukić is an information privacy, security and compliance consultant at one of the main identity monitoring and protection services. The passion to make cyber security accessible and interesting has led David to join InfoCollective team since 2022.