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How to Outsmart Grandparent Scams

Your phone rings. The person on the other end of the line sounds upset, says she’s your grandchild and asks for money to get out of a sticky situation. This is how a grandparent scam begins. And because the scam pulls at your heartstrings, it’s easy to become a victim. This is how the “grandparents scam” works.

If you’ve been targeted or victimized, you’re not alone. According to the Federal Trade Commission, Americans lost more than $300 million to various imposter scams in 2017.

How to Outsmart Grandparent Scams

Follow the following steps to ensure protecting yourself from the grandparents scam:a senior woman giving her credit card number to someone on the phone

Detect a Scam

Hang up the phone immediately if the caller does any of the following:

  • Claims to be someone you know (“I’m your granddaughter!”), but can’t identify herself by name when asked
  • Makes an excuse for an unrecognizable voice, such as having a broken nose or cold
  • Talks rapidly and pressures you to act quickly
  • Requests a wire transfer or prepaid card number immediately to help get out of trouble
  • Asks you not to mention the situation to other family members

Sometimes scammers will pose as a collections agent or bail bondsman who threatens your grandchild will be jailed or lose their driver’s license if you don’t send money. These scammers will demand a certain amount of money, but if you tell them you don’t have that much, they may reduce the amount they say is needed.

Protect Yourself

Know what to do if you find yourself on the line with a scam artist.

    • Try to verify the caller’s identity without revealing personal information. Ask a question only they know the answer to or ask the caller to give his or her name. (An answer of “It’s me, Grandma!” won’t suffice.)
  • Politely ask for a number to call them back. Once you’ve hung up the phone, call another close relative—or even the supposed caller—to verify the story.
  • Never send money through a wire transfer. This type of exchange is virtually untraceable, and your cash can’t be recovered easily—if at all.

Become Scam Savvy

Learn more about other scams that often target older adults.

  • Identity theft: A dishonest person can use your personal information to file taxes or open accounts in your name, which can cause significant problems with your finances and credit history.
  • Health care fraud: Disreputable health care providers may make claims for services they didn’t provide, use your medical information to obtain supplies, and/or operate without a license.
  • Foreign lottery fraud: Letters that claim you’ve won money through a foreign lottery should elicit caution, not excitement. Con artists will trick you into depositing a cashier’s check to claim your bigger prize. Once the bank realizes the check is fake, you’re on the hook for the amount.

To report a suspected scam, contact the FTC at 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357) or go to its Complaint Assistant site.

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