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Grandparents Lose Millions to Fake Grandchildren

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Senior woman giving credit card information over the phone.
Grandparents are being scammed out of millions of dollars by people convincing them their grandchild needs help.

Con artists steal an average of $9,000 per person from older victims, by convincing the seniors that their grandchild is in a crisis. These imposters stole over $41 million from Americans in 2018. Learning how grandparents lose millions to people pretending to be their grandkids could help you or a loved one avoid becoming a victim.

The losses from this scam are skyrocketing, from $26 million in 2017 to $41 million in 2018. In 2017, only one out of fourteen people age 70 and older who reported the scam paid money to the fraudsters. However, in 2018, one out of every four of the people in this group handed money over to the con artists.

The scam usually starts with a telephone call to the grandparent. Here are some of the common tactics the fraudsters use to steal from grandparents:

  • The caller pretends to be injured and fakes uncontrolled sobbing to disguise the caller’s voice. Most grandparents would recognize the voice of a grandchild, so the pretend crying masks the difference in the caller’s voice and that of the grandchild.
  • The caller pretends to be a friend of a grandchild and says their grandchild has been arrested or is in some other form of legal trouble. The con artist says the grandchild went on a quick trip to another country and got into trouble there. This tactic makes it less likely the grandparent will travel to where the grandchild supposedly is to render help in person. About half of the incidents in which grandparents send cash payments involves a claim of legal trouble.
  • The con artist claims the grandchild was in a car accident and needs money for the hospital or doctor. Sometimes the crook will claim the grandchild was at least partly at fault, or had been drinking, to motivate the grandparent to keep the matter private.
  • The crook says the grandchild told him the grandparent is the only person who can help or the only one whom the grandkid trusts. Another common allegation is the grandchild is embarrassed about the situation and does not want anyone to know. The purpose of these claims is to decrease the likelihood the grandparent will check with any other relatives to see if the story is true.
  • The scammer provides some personal information about you or your family in an attempt to verify the call is legitimate. You cannot trust this information, because the con artist probably got the details about you and your family from social media postings.

What to Do If You Get a Family or Friend Emergency Phone Call

Security experts say if you get a phone call like this, it is almost certainly a scam. You should pause and think before acting. Write down the information from the caller, but don’t provide any of your information over the telephone. Absolutely do not provide your address, date of birth, credit card number, bank account information or any other personal data.

Contact family members to verify whether your grandchild is indeed traveling or has gotten into trouble with the law. If you suspect the call was a scam, report it to the Federal Trade Commission.

References:

AARP. “Family Emergency Scams Cost Victims $41M.” (accessed August 1, 2019) https://www.aarp.org/money/scams-fraud/info-2018/cash-grandparent.html

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