We talk a lot about scams—specifically those being conducted over the phone. The reason we do so is because they just keep happening. That’s not so surprising, I suppose. After all, this is a full-time job to the scammer sitting on the other end of the line. They want to get paid so they keep iterating on their technique and finding new ways to break the barriers that law enforcement has set in place. While it’s true that new scams crop up daily, there are a handful of effective schemes that they keep in their arsenal. With that in mind, I think it’s about time that we revisit one that is particularly infuriating. The Grandparent Scam.
What’s the Grandparent Scam?
Like many other scams out there, this one targets the elderly. The scammer calls claiming to be the call recipient’s grandson or granddaughter. Oftentimes they’ll call in the middle of the night when the receiver doesn’t fully have their wits about them. There are variations on the scam, but the general scenario is that this “grandchild” has gotten him or herself into trouble, usually in a foreign country. They’ve been arrested or mugged or just wrecked their car, and they need money to get out of this bind—and boy do they need it fast. So what’s their solution? Wire the money to Western Union or MoneyGram. They’ll also ask you not to contact anyone else in the family, especially mom and dad, because their parents will be so upset and worried about them.
More calls tend to follow once the scam’s victim has wired the first batch of money. Another person pretending to be the police officer, bail bondsman or lawyer will call to verify this fake story that’s being told, which gets victims warmed up for the next emergency call that is soon to follow from their impostor grandchild. Victims will go through anywhere between two to three money transfers before realizing they’ve been had.
More Than Money at Stake
In addition to the money that the elderly lose, self-confidence and family relationships also undergo strain. The FBI first began getting complaints about the Grandparent Scam in 2008 and since then tens of thousands have been conned out of senior citizens. Christine Sneed shows in her New York Times essay that it’s more than just money at stake.
After being conned out of six thousand dollars, her grandfather begged her not to tell the rest of the family for fear of them putting him in a home due to his momentary showing of cloudy judgment. Christine underwent the guilt both of seeing her grandfather lose his money to someone impersonating her and further breaking his trust by reporting the incident to her uncle who’s in charge of her grandpa’s finances. Now she has a tough time getting her grandpa to take her calls—partly because he’s still embarrassed and party because he’s unsure if it’s really her calling.
How to Protect Your Loved Ones
What happened to Christine and her grandfather is sad, but it also serves as a reminder that we all need to protect ourselves and the ones we love from going through something so painful. The best way to fight fraud like the Grandparent Scam is to educate yourself on the current phone scams and take notes on how they can be avoided. The FBI has valuable tips on how to act if you think you or a loved one has been a victim of the Grandparent Scam. Take a look at the advice at the bottom of their webpage.
Whitepages also has solutions for scams like this. We employ an entire team dedicated to phone reputation and the tracking of phone numbers that are engaging in fraudulent activity. We put our findings along with user comments on Whitepages.com and our Android app, Whitepages Caller ID. With Caller ID, you can report fraudsters to Whitepages and get real-time alerts about scam numbers, so you can skip their call and block them from ever contacting you again.
If you have a grandpa or grandma that you’re worried about, sit them down and show them the FBI warning. And if they have a mobile phone, consider showing them how to use Whitepages Caller ID. Nobody wants to see their loved ones hurt or let the scammers win.