Grandparent Scams

Senior citizens are particularly targeted by scammers.  They’re perceived as more trusting, and conversely less skeptical.  They’re more likely to be at home and easily accessible by phone.  And they’re also presumed to have spent their working years raising families and saving up enough money to allow themselves to retire in dignity and relative comfort. 

So, what would a loving grandparent do if he or she were to get a phone call late at night informing them that their grandchild, who was traveling abroad, was in an accident and hospitalized and now had to pay the bill.  Or that the grandchild was arrested and now had to post bond.  Or that the grandchild was robbed and now stranded without funds. 

The scammers use spoofed caller IDs to erroneously identify themselves as calling from hospitals, police stations, attorneys’ offices, or embassies and consulates. 

How do they know a grandchild is traveling abroad?  Sometimes they don’t and just make random calls on the assumption that mathematically they’ll eventually stumble upon grandparents who fit the bill.  But astute scammers will do their homework, and that’s not hard to do.  For example, they’ll scour Facebook groups to compile names of young adults touring on their own.  Facebook profiles can be set to allow complete strangers to see your list of friends, and each list of friends can be set to indicate a familial relationship, including grandpa and grandma.  Bingo.  The grandparents may even list their phone number on their own profiles, but if not, they aren’t difficult to find.  After all, the scammer now knows where they live, too.  They now have all the details they need to convince the grandparents that their call is for real, including the grandchild’s name, his or her last verified location, even photos taken during the trip. 

The scammers will always put pressure on the grandparents by claiming that time is of the essence.  Often, someone will join the call (but only for a few seconds) and quickly say “I’m your grandson” (grandsons are much more frequently targeted than granddaughters) and then maybe add a few words more like “Please send the money.” The grandson will probably pretend to be crying, too, in order to disguise his voice, which will put pressure the grandparents even more.  And then the scammer will ask for the money to be transferred by wire or as gift cards (because they are often impossible to trace) or, increasingly in cash via a parcel delivery service.  Finally, the grandparents will be instructed not to tell anything to the parents, at the grandson’s request.

According to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, the average sum sent by relatives or friends of people supposedly in distress was about $2,000.  But for senior citizens 70 years and older who are caught in this scam the figure is $9,000, which explains why scammers prefer them.  The total amount of money lost by U.S. residents through these scams was estimated to have surpassed $41 million in 2017, up from $26 million in 2016.  That’s a jump of over 63 percent.

According to one convicted scammer, he was able to pocket up to $10,000 a day, even though only one out of 50 calls he made convinced the grandparents.  “We’ve had doctors and lawyers fall for this,” a spokesman of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) told CBS News.  “It doesn’t matter what your educational level is because it triggers something emotional, it causes you to act.”

If you think you’ve been the victim of a grandparent scam, contact the fund recovery experts at MyChargeBack.