“The Grandparent Phone Scam” – Seniors at Risk

We recently heard about one of our employees’ relatives who had been the victim of the “Grandparent Phone Scam.”

She was a woman in her 90s who believed that one of her grandchildren was in trouble. This is exactly what phone scammers are hoping for when they prey on older victims by playing the “grandparent scam”. These types of scams are costing seniors over $35 billion.
Americans who are 65 and older are targeted for two reasons: that generation is kind and trusting and not as likely to hang up on a caller (or screen calls). Plus, this age group is typically a homeowner with a built up savings. The National Center for Victims of Crime confirms that elderly victims are more likely to fall for the scam and lose money than any other age group.

Here is how it typically works:

  •  Scammers either make random calls, until a senior answers, or they use a marketing list or obituary to target surviving family members.
  • The scammer calls and pretends to be a grandchild (i.e. “Hi Grandma, it’s your granddaughter”) – likely the grandparent responds with, “oh, is this _____”? And bingo, the scammer now has a name to assume.
  • The scammer assumes the identity of the grandchild and he pretends to be in need – on a vacation without a passport or in need of money due to an accident, etc.
  • The scammer asks for money to be wired (to a Moneygram or Western Union) and asks for the conversation to be kept confidential (i.e. ‘My parents will be upset…please don’t tell them”).
  • Once the scam is complete, even if the victim realized it, he or she is unlikely to report a fraud. This is due to the complications associated with filing a report – or perhaps, being too embarrassed to admit and report it. (Seniors are especially sensitive to how their grown children will perceive them.)

So how can we protect our seniors from scams like the “Grandparent Phone Scam?” What advice can we give them if we are not always around when the phone rings?

  • Tell your loved ones about this widely known and prevalent scam.
  • Remind them to avoid ever giving out financial information via phone.
  • Remind them that many scams involve wiring money – to stay away from this before consulting with a friend or family member.
  • You (or they) can verify a caller’s ID by either getting their number and calling them back, or looking up their number in a reverse phone directory
  • If a senior you know does become a victim of this scam, encourage him to report it. Doing nothing is worse. Contact the police and Adult Protective services at NAPSA.

For more general information on the grandparent phone scam and tips on how to avoid it, visit:Consumer Federation of America