One of the most nefarious scams to target older adults is what is colloquially known as the Grandparent Scam.
This is a surprisingly common scam that preys on the raw emotion and care that our aging parents and grandparents have for their families, attempting to confuse the victim with jarring information about a family member who is supposedly in dire trouble.
How Does The Grandparent Scam Work?
The grandparent scam is relatively simple, while horribly depraved. Either via text message or a cleverly disguised or muffled phone call, the fraudster will reach out to an older adult claiming to be their grandchild or another family member. They will immediately stress that they are in some sort of trouble. They may claim they’ve been arrested or they may go the opposite, and more frightening route, claiming they’ve been kidnapped or found themselves in some sort of trouble with a gang or something similar.
Of course the message or call will come from an unknown number, but the scammer will often cover this fact up nearly immediately stating that they are using their captor’s phone or calling from a prison cell.
The scammer will go on to further convince the victim of who they are by calling out some tidbits of information that they were easily able to source via social media. Names of other relatives, pets, churches, really anything that isn’t particularly secret, but is enough to convince a victim that the person is who they claim to be.
The next step is to convince the victim that the only way out of their predicament is with money. They need funds sent to them immediately and typically through a roundabout method like a money wire or even gift card purchases – an oddly common scam in itself.
Reading this, your first thought may be “come on, how could anyone fall for this?” But the truth of the matter is that between 2015 and 2020, the FTC logged over 91,000 reports of this sort of scam and in 2021 a team of eight people were charged in a series of scams that took $2 million from older adults in an 11 month period.
How To Protect Our Loved Ones from a Grandparent Scam
As we always preach to our audience, knowledge is key. Make sure you talk to your parents or grandparents about the grandparent scam. Let them know that you or your kids would never contact them asking for money. Tell them to call you immediately if they ever receive this sort of message or phone call so that you can look into it yourself.
Let them know that they should never respond to a text message or phone call from an unknown number. It’s really as simple as that.
While knowledge is power, people are still people and our emotions have a way of leading us astray. That’s what makes the grandparent scam so frightening (and frighteningly successful!) These scammers know what they are doing and they have a way of convincing a victim that this is a real situation. They target older adults as they are more likely to confuse easily or not quite understand technology and why a phone number didn’t appear properly on their phone – in fact, plenty of older adults don’t even have smart phones so they wouldn’t know one way or another who is calling.
This is why, outside of education, the most critical thing you can do is build a Trusted Circle around your parents and grandparents. Create a circle for your family on WayWiser so that you can not just keep in constant contact about what’s going on with daily or weekly care needs for a loved one, but connect their financial information so that you can monitor any unusual activity as a team.
Creating custom alerts and keeping a watchful eye on your parents’ finances as a team is the best way to catch a scammer in the act. Even if they are able to get a few dollars, you’ll be able to intervene and stop anything before it gets truly out of hand.
Keep your loved ones safe from fraud and exploitation.
If your parent or grandparent is victimized, here is what you should do next.