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How to spot the grandparent scam

Alicia Colombo

By Jeremy Rodriguez

The phone rings. You pick it up and hear your grandson’s voice on the other end. He’s in jail and needs money sent over immediately to pay for bail. Furthermore, he pleads with you not to tell his parents because he doesn’t want to get in trouble. As the grandparent, naturally, you want to help your grandchild. So, you immediately wire the money. You later learn that your grandchild was never in jail, and the money you sent is gone.

This convincing scheme is known as the “grandparent scam,” and there are many variations of it. In an article titled “Scammers Use Fake Emergencies to Steal Your Money,” the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) says that scammers can use voice-cloning software to make themselves sound like your loved one, similar to the example mentioned above.

Scammers may also pose as an authority figure, such as a lawyer, police officer or doctor, to make the situation sound more convincing. In this scenario, the scammer may call or even come to your door claiming that your grandchild or child is “in trouble” and needs your help, in the form of cash.

The United States Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) offers several videos illustrating these types of grandparent scams on its website at (type “grandparent scams” in the search). In one video, a victim speaks about how her grandson needed $9,000 worth of iTunes gift cards. This type of request should raise a red flag, especially since the grandmother had no idea what the cards even were.

If you are confused or unsure, it’s best to verify the caller’s identity and the validity of the request before sending any money. Requests for large sums of money should immediately be cause for concern.

The USPIS offers these tips to help you avoid scams:

  • Verify the story – After ending the “urgent” call, contact your grandchild (or another family member who can verify their whereabouts) directly to verify if the story is true. Do not send any money until you can verify the validity.
  • Think before acting – Scammers often request to have funds transmitted electronically or through reloadable prepaid gift cards. Never provide your bank account or credit card number over the phone to an unverified requestor. Don’t be quick to act; be quick to think.
  • Be wary of late-night calls – Scammers tend to take advantage of times when older adults are tired or asleep.

Report scams
You can report scams to the Federal Trade Commission by calling FTC’s Consumer Response Center at 1-877-382-4357 or going online to Financial exploitation of older Philadelphians can also be reported to Philadelphia Corporation for Aging’s Older Adult Protective Services unit at 215-765-9040.

Jeremy Rodriguez is a freelance journalist, blogger, editor and podcaster.

Categories: Finances Milestones eNews


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