Don’t Open Your Door To Grandparent Scams
When it comes to scammers, nothing is sacred — including the bond between grandparent and grandchild. Lately, grandparent scammers have gotten bolder: they might even come to your door to collect money, supposedly for your grandchild in distress.
These kinds of scams still start with a call from someone pretending to be your grandchild. They might speak softly or make an excuse for why they sound different. They’ll say they’re in trouble, need bail, or need money for some reason. The “grandkid” will also beg you to keep this a secret — maybe they’re “under a gag order,” or they don’t want their parents to know. Sometimes, they might put another scammer on the line who pretends to be a lawyer needing money to represent the grandchild in court.
But, instead of asking you to buy gift cards or wire money (both signs of a scam), the scammer tells you someone will come to your door to pick up cash. Once you hand it over, your money is gone. But you might get more calls to send money by wire transfer or through the mail.
Grandparent Scams In The Age Of Coronavirus
“Grandma: I’m in the hospital, sick, please wire money right away.” “Grandpa: I’m stuck overseas, please send money.” Grandparent scams can take a new twist – and a new sense of urgency – in these days of Coronavirus. Here’s what to keep in mind.
In grandparent scams, scammers pose as panicked grandchildren in trouble, calling or sending messages urging you to wire money immediately. They’ll say they need cash to help with an emergency – like paying a hospital bill or needing to leave a foreign country. They pull at your heartstrings so they can trick you into sending money before you realize it’s a scam. In these days of Coronavirus concerns, their lies can be particularly compelling. But we all need to save our money for real family emergencies.
Family Emergency Scams
Scammers may pose as relatives or friends, calling or sending messages to urge you to wire money immediately. They’ll say they need cash to help with an emergency — like getting out of jail, paying a hospital bill, or needing to leave a foreign country. Their goal is to trick you into sending money before you realize it’s a scam.
Verify an Emergency
If someone calls or sends a message claiming to be a family member or a friend desperate for money:
- Resist the urge to act immediately, no matter how dramatic the story is.
- Verify the person’s identity by asking questions that a stranger couldn’t possibly answer.
- Call a phone number for your family member or friend that you know to be genuine.
- Check the story out with someone else in your family or circle of friends, even if you’ve been told to keep it a secret.
- Don’t wire money — or send a check or money order by overnight delivery or courier.
- Report possible fraud at ftc.gov/complaint or by calling 1-877-FTC-HELP.
Scammers Use Tricks
They can impersonate your loved one convincingly.
It’s surprisingly easy for a scam artist to impersonate someone. Social networking sites make it easier than ever to sleuth out personal and family information. Scammers also could hack into the e-mail account of someone you know. To make their story seem legitimate, they may involve another crook who claims to be an authority figure, like a lawyer or police officer.
They Play On Your Emotions
Scammers are banking on your love and concern to outweigh your skepticism. In one version of this scam, con artists impersonate grandchildren in distress to trick concerned grandparents into sending money. Sometimes, this is called a “Grandparent Scam.”
They Swear You To Secrecy
Con artists may insist that you keep their request for money confidential – to keep you from checking out their story and identifying them as imposters. Victims of this scam often don’t realize they’ve been tricked until days later when they speak to their actual family member or friend who knows nothing about the “emergency.” By then, the money they sent can’t be recovered.
They Insist That You Wire Money Right Away
Scammers pressure people into wiring money because it’s like sending cash – once it’s gone, you can’t trace it or get it back. Imposters encourage using money transfer services so they can get your money before you realize you’ve been scammed.
What To Do?
So, how can we avoid grandparent scams or family emergency scams? If someone calls or sends a message claiming to be a grandchild, other family member or friend desperate for money:
- Resist the urge to act immediately – no matter how dramatic the story is.
- Verify the caller’s identity. Ask questions that a stranger couldn’t possibly answer. Call a phone number for your family member or friend that you know to be genuine. Check the story out with someone else in your family or circle of friends, even if you’ve been told to keep it a secret.
- Don’t send cash, gift cards, or money transfers – once the scammer gets the money, it’s gone!
Avoid Family Emergency Scams
To avoid these scams and protect your personal information:
- Take a breath and resist the pressure to pay. Get off the phone and call or text the person who (supposedly) called. If you can’t reach them, check with a family member to get the real story. Even though the scammer said not to.
- Don’t give your address, personal information, or cash to anyone who contacts you. And anyone who asks you to pay by gift card or money transfer is a scammer. Always.
- Check your social media privacy settings and limit what you share publicly. Even if your settings are private, be careful about what personal identifiers you put out on social media.
Report It – Every Time
If you lost money to this kind of scam, it was a crime, so file a report with local law enforcement. See below for how to do it!