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How to recognize a ‘Grandparents Scam’

Devin Partida writes about cyber security and technology. She is also the Editor-in-Chief of ReHack.com. 

Anyone with grandchildren knows how challenging it can be to say no to them. Whether it’s a piece of candy at the convenience store or fulfilling a gift wish for Christmas, older adults with grandchildren love to make them happy in any way they can.

Unfortunately, their generosity can be easily taken advantage of by scammers. In one case, eight people were indicted when police found they were a part of a nationwide grandparents scam.

It can be embarrassing for older adults to admit that they’ve been victims of an online or over-the-phone scam. Grandparent scams happen more often than one would expect. In addition, older Latinos are most often the targets of these fraudulent scams, according to AARP.

Here is more information about grandparent scams and how to avoid falling victim.

What is a ‘Grandparents Scam’?

Essentially, this type of tug-at-your-heartstrings scam involves someone posing as one’s grandchild or relative and asking older adults for large amounts of cash. In some cases, more than one mastermind will be behind this fraud.

It’s no secret that the COVID-19 pandemic has left older adults more isolated from their loved ones. As a result, more hackers were able to commit these well-thought-out grandparents scams than previously. In fact, it’s estimated that over $500,000 was lost as a result of these schemes.

Scammers play on the emotions of older people and try to make it seem as if their grandchild — who they’re posing as — needs immediate financial help. Some scammers will demand a few hundred dollars, while others will ask for upwards of $1,000.

There’s no definitive answer as to the amount of money they’re asking for. However, it can be scary to know that people are trying to scam older adults into handing over cash from their retirement funds.

Seniors must be protected, especially if they plan on investing some of their money. It’s estimated that there will be 78 million senior citizens by 2035, and by educating them now, they can avoid falling victim to a grandparents scam.

Scammers will create elaborate storylines to attempt to play with older people’s emotions in order to ultimately receive these funds. Scammers will often hack into someone’s social media account, mine personal information and somehow find a relevant phone number.

They can even create a fake caller ID, so a grandparent truly believes they’re picking up a call from their loved one. It’s a heartbreaking story, as so many older adults think they’re doing the right thing by providing money to those they feel need it. How can someone recognize a grandparent scam and protect themselves?

Protection against Grandparent Scams

These are some red flags indicating grandparent scams.

  • The caller asks grandparents explicitly for money due to a DUI arrest, car accident or hospital stay.
  • Someone says “don’t tell dad” or “don’t tell anybody. It needs to be a secret.”
  • The caller asks for money to be sent through Western Union or another money transfer company.

Here are some things to do when the person on the other side of the phone is trying to commit a grandparents scam.

  • Avoid picking up phone calls from unknown phone numbers.
  • Don’t panic — resist the pressure to act quickly. It’s rare to hear from relatives demanding cash immediately.
  • Contact grandchildren and family members directly to ask if they need cash and explain the situation to them.
  • Limit how much personal information is shared, and never provide any addresses, phone numbers, Social Security numbers or bank account information

It’s critical to protect oneself in these circumstances, as scammers can gain money by wire transfer or even cash in an envelope. Some will even request that a ride-sharing service get involved in picking up the payout.

While there are many more examples of cybercrimes, understanding the nuances of grandparent scams will help people when they receive strange phone calls from unknown numbers.

Avoid being scammed

Regardless of how the grandparent scam is carried out, it’s crucial to know what to look for when receiving odd phone calls or suspicious emails. Avoid being scammed by would-be criminals by identifying the red flags and following the steps listed above.

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