Cybercrime Alert for Grandparents

There is a very real and terrible scam going on in the U.S. and abroad, in which grandparents are being targeted.


The scam begins with something most grandparents don’t get enough of—a phone call, email message or a message through Facebook from a grandchild. The scammer, impersonating that grandchild, is frantic and says he’s been hurt in a car accident, or arrested, or gotten in some kind of trouble and needs money fast.

One former scammer told CBS News that he can easily make $10,000 in a single day. He just keeps calling until someone bites. Then he does it again and again.

A typical conversation goes like this:

Hey, Grandma, Hi Grandpa … It’s me Johnny. I’m in a little bit of trouble right now. Yeah, Ashley is good. But I’ve got a problem. If I tell you, just keep it between us. Don’t tell Mom and Dad—they’d freak out and they wouldn’t understand. I’m on vacation, but I got into a little accident, and I was arrested for a DUI. Things got out of control, and I need you to pleeeeeze send me money.

These days it’s not hard to come up with enough personal information on just about anyone to make it sounds believable: names, colleges, locations.

To make things even more convincing sometimes an “officer” or an “attorney” comes on the phone to explain the seriousness of the situation and why money is needed right away (to post bail or to cover medical costs, for example).

Then the grandparents are asked to purchase prepaid money cards, which are commonly available at grocery and convenience stores. Once they purchase the cards, they get instructions to provide the multi-digit codes on the back of the cards. With this information, scammers can go online and drain the cards’ funds.

This is not a new scam. In fact you may have heard about it in the past, assuming that by now everyone is wise to these unsolicited phone calls of desperation from scamsters impersonating grandchildren. But this crime isn’t winding down.

On the contrary, it is growing. Every day grandparents are being scammed (the average take is $4,000) and all for the love of their grandchildren.

Grandparents who fall for the scam admit to being heartbroken. They feel stupid. As with all kinds of elder financial abuse, many actually try to hide it because they are embarrassed and fear losing control of the money they have left.

One of the reasons this scam works is because of the special the relationship between a grandparent and a grandchild. It’s different than the relationship between a parent and a child. Grandparents are more likely than parents to send money, no questions asked. Scam artists understand this and they take full advantage of it.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine has offered the following tips for how you can help protect the elderly from this scam:

  • Talk to your family about these scams and discuss how you would communicate during a true emergency.
  • If you get a call from a grandchild or other family member who claims to be in trouble, ask questions only your real family members would know how to answer.
  • Don’t send money via wire transfer or prepaid card in response to an unexpected phone call. These are preferred payment methods of scammers because they are difficult to trace or recover once payment is provided.
  • Limit the amount of information you post online and limit who can view your information. For example, don’t post upcoming travel plans online, because scammers could use that information to take advantage of your family.
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3 replies
  1. Richard Bauman says:

    They don’t always ask for money the first time they call. I had a call from my “grandson” that he was vacationing in Mexico and did I want him to bring me any souvenirs. I knew it wasn’t grandson, though the call sounded a lot like him. When I didn’t use his name after several minutes of talking, he said, “Do you know who this is?” I told him “I think I do, but why don’t you tell me.” He hung up. I later learned that scammers such as this one will call back a few hours or days later, and tell you he/she’s in trouble and needs money. And since he/she has established a connection you are more likely to send the money.

  2. Sharon says:

    My mother got a call like this about a year or 2 ago. Someone called impersonating my grandson who would be her great-grandson. He lives in England so she was not sure if it was his voice on the line or not. She lives alone so as soon as she got off the phone she called me. She said they were sending a taxi to get her to take her to the bank to make the wire transfer. My husband went over to her apartment to check on her and sure enough the taxi was waiting in front of her apartment. My husband sent the taxi on its way but the taxi driver kept insisting that he was at the correct address. We had a long discussion with my mother about these types of scams. She now alerts us about anything that seems suspicious. We were very thankful my mother was savvy enough to question this request.

  3. PNW Jenn says:

    My grandmother nearly got taken by this scam about 2 years ago by people claiming to be my cousin. Thank god for the quick thinking employee at Walmart who sold her the prepaid cards. The employee, sensing a scam but unable to convince my gram of it, pointed out the *wrong* numbers on the receipts for my gram to share with the scammers. The employee was *insistent* with my gram that those were the only number to give out. Gram gave the scammers the incorrect info and in the time it took for them to call her back to get the right ones, she’d grown suspicious. She was able to return the cards and get her money back.

    I wrote a glowing letter to Walmart, asking them to commend this employee for her actions. That woman’s quick thinking saved my low-income gram over $700.


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