Talk about the grandparent scam before it happens

ID-10034436Sunday, Sept. 7  is National Grandparents Day–a good time for a family discussion about scams that target older people. One of the most popular (and meanest) schemes is known as the “grandparent scam.” It’s a variation on the “emergency” scam or the “my awful trip” scam.

The grandparent scam is designed to fool seniors into thinking that their grandchild is hurt, arrested or stranded, and needs a lot of money very quickly.

Emergency scams can happen to anyone. Scammers make up an urgent situation — “I’ve been arrested,” “I’ve been mugged,” “I’m in the hospital” — and target friends and family with pleas for help… and money. Scammers are particularly fond of seniors, however. They know seniors are often trusting and willing to help loved ones. They know seniors can have Social Security income, pensions, investments and plenty in savings. Those qualities make them attractive targets.

Grandparents may know their grandkids’ voices in normal circumstances, but the scammers have done research for family details and might cry or otherwise make it hard to tell. Sometimes the scammer impersonates a police officer, court official or some other authority figure. If seniors wire money to the scammers, the transaction is untraceable and the money is gone for good.

Your BBB offers these steps that families can take to avoid the Grandparent Scam.

Know the red flags. Typically, the grandparent receives a frantic phone call from a scammer posing as their grandchild. The “grandchild” explains that he or she has gotten into trouble and needs help, perhaps caused a car accident or was arrested for drug possession. The “grandchild” pleads to the grandparents not to tell his or her parents and asks that they wire thousands of dollars for reasons posting bail, repairing the car, covering lawyer’s fees, or even paying hospital bills for a person the grandchild has supposedly injured in a car accident.

Don’t disclose too much information. If a grandparent receives a call from someone claiming to be their grandchild in distress, BBB advises that the grandparent not disclose any information before confirming that it really is their grandchild. If a caller says “It’s me, Grandma!” don’t respond with a name, but instead let the caller explain who he or she is. People should also be careful sharing too much travel information on social media.

Ask a personal question. One easy way to confirm their identity is to ask a simple question that the grandchild would know such as the name of a cousin or pet. Be careful not to ask something that can be easily identified via a social media profile (such as the name of the grandchild’s school).

Communicate. If a student really is traveling, he or she should share travel plans with family members before leaving the state or country. Let your older loved ones know where you’ll be and when you plan to return. Make sure everyone in the family has contact information in case of emergency. This should include a cell phone number and email for the student and for anyone they are traveling with. 

For more tips you can trust, visit