How the scams play out
There are several variations of the grandparent scam. In each one, the caller will claim to be a grandchild of the target. The scammer will often spoof the grandchild’s number so it shows up on the grandparent’s phone.
- The legal trouble scam. In this ruse, a scammer who claims to be the grandchild of the target will call and claim to have been arrested. The “grandchild” will ask their grandparent to send money to post bail. They may also ask for funds to pay for legal representation. They’ll pass the phone to an alleged representative to accept the funds via wire transfer or gift cards. Of course, this is just another scammer who is in on the crime.
- The medical trouble scam. This version of the grandparent scam involves a “grandchild” calling up Grandma or Grandpa and claiming to be seriously injured. They’ll ask for money to help pay the medical bills.
- The international trouble scam. Most common during times when teens and/or young adults are likely to be traveling, such as during spring break or summer vacation, in this scam, a “grandchild” will call and claim they’re in deep trouble while in a foreign country. Of course, they’ll ask for a large sum of money via wire transfer or prepaid debit card to help them get out safely.
If you’re targeted
If you believe you’ve been targeted by any of these grandparent scams or a similar ruse, follow these steps to keep yourself safe:
- Don’t take immediate action. The grandparent scam, like most scams, relies on creating a false sense of urgency so the target has very little time to stop and think about what’s taking place. Beat them at their game by taking a step back and thinking rationally about the call you’re receiving.
- Ask a personal question. Your grandchild’s name is on the Caller ID and the caller sounds just like them – but are they really on the phone? Ask the caller to answer a personal question only your grandchild would know, such as a family memory, an important date or a private joke you share with your grandchild.
- Check your grandchild’s whereabouts. If you’re still unsure if your grandchild is really calling you, use another phone, or hang up on the call, and call your grandchild on your own. Chances are, your grandchild is perfectly safe and fine.
- Hang up and report the crime. Once you’ve verified that you’ve been targeted by a scammer, hang up and report the scam to the police. Share as much information as you can. It’s also a good idea to alert the FTC about the scam. If you’ve lost money through the scam, the FTC can help you determine your best next steps.
Safety rules to know
It’s a good idea to follow these rules for protection from grandparent scams and other ruses:
- Never share personal information online or on the phone with an unverified contact.
- If you’re asked to pay for something via money transfer or prepaid gift card, you’re likely dealing with a scammer.
- Put your number on the no call list to limit the number of scammers who target your phone.
- Keep your social media privacy settings at their strongest and limit what you share on public forums.
Grandparent scams are especially nefarious as they exploit the special bond between grandparents and their grandchildren. Use the tips outlined here to stay safe.