My mother was recently the victim of a grandparent or granny scam as they’re known.  These scams are a version of telephone fraud.  They always involve a ‘relative’, usually a grandchild, in some kind of trouble needing money urgently.

If you have an aging parent, make sure they are aware of these scams and that they follow the tips listed below to determine the validity of the call.  Scammers can be VERY persuasive!

The typical scenario: The grandparent receives a call from either someone posing as a grandchild or someone posing as an authority involved in the grandchild’s case, such as a doctor or lawyer.  In my mother’s case, a very well spoken gentleman identified himself as a British embassy employee and told my mother that her grandson was on a school trip in London and had gotten into trouble.  Her grandson didn’t want his parents to know and had asked him to call my mother.  The script varies – the relative has been in an accident overseas, has been arrested, their car has broken down, they’ve been mugged – there are many variations but the bottom line is that money is needed and quickly.  Wired money is always requested because it is equivalent to cash and impossible to track.

My mother is one of the most skeptical women I know but she bought it hook, line and sinker.  Predators count on the fact that in an emergency we stop listening, our heart rate and emotional distress increases, and the desire to help becomes paramount.  She was given explicit instructions about how and where to wire $2,000. She grabbed her purse and off she went.  An employee at the money wiring office warned her that it might be a granny scam and urged her to return home and call my sister to see if my sister’s son was in London.  Thank goodness she did exactly that and of course, the grandson was in school in his hometown, not in London.

Last year, AARP reports that 25,500 older Americans sent $110 million to scammers posing as family members in trouble in a foreign country, and those are the ones who reported it! Usually only about 8% of victims ever report a crime.

What to do:

  • Don’t be fooled if the scammers know the grandchild’s name.  That kind of information is readily available on the internet.
  • A request for wired money should raise suspicions.
  • Don’t react quickly – keep your head and slow things down so you can think clearly.
  • Ask a question to verify identity.  If the caller is posing as the grandchild, ask a parent’s name, or the name of a pet.
  • Ask for a number to call them back.  Hang up and call your grandchild’s cell phone or home phone, and call his or her parents.
  • Going forward, have family members share travel plans with each other, but not on a social networking site.
  • If you fall for the scam you will receive subsequent requests for more money.  If you weren’t suspicious before, you should be now!  Call your local police and report it to your state attorney general.