Common Law - The FindLaw Consumer Protection Law Blog

Don’t Fall for 'Grandparent Scam' This Thanksgiving

Consumer groups and authorities across the country, including New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, are advising families to be on the lookout for a scam targeting grandparents this Thanksgiving.

In a press release, Schneiderman asked colleges in the state of New York to help stop the spread of a phone scam known as the "grandparent scam." The scam typically involves a phone call or an email to a senior citizen in which the scammer pretends to be the victim's grandchild. The scammer claims that he or she is in trouble and needs the grandparents to wire money immediately.

According to the FTC, more than 40,000 of these so-called grandparent scams have been reported since 2010, with many more likely going unreported.

How the Scam Works

According to the Consumer Federation of America, the scammers may target victims at random, but may also use information gathered through marketing lists, social networking sites, obituaries, or other online information to get the names of a victim's grandchildren or other relatives

Often, however, scammers don't need to know the names of a victim's grandchildren, or even whether the victim has any grandchildren at all. Rather, the scammer will simply address the victim as grandma or grandpa and wait for the grandparent to ask "Sally, is that you?" Scammers often call in the middle of the night, relying on the late hour to add to the victim's confusion.

Once the grandparent is convinced the person on the phone is indeed his or her grandchild, the scammer then makes a plea for money, usually for some form of legal or travel-related emergency, such as needing to get out of jail or get through customs. Whatever the issue, the request is always the same: Wire money immediately, using a service such as Western Union of MoneyGram.

According to one admitted scammer (currently awaiting sentencing in California) interviewed by CBS News, scammers can make as much as $10,000 a day running the grandparent scam. The scammer said that he would target those over 65, because "[o]nce you get them emotionally involved, then they'll do anything for you, basically."

What You Can Do to Prevent Being Scammed

Some ways to prevent being taken in by the grandparent scam include:

  • Being suspicious any time you are unexpectedly asked to wire money;
  • Verifying an emergency by calling a family member or friend who may be able to help (even if it's late);
  • Limiting what you share, such as vacation plans, on social media and other websites; and
  • Giving your family members a secret codeword to be used in the event of an emergency.

Those who have been the victim of a grandparent scam or attempted grandparent scam can file a complaint with the FTC using the online complaint assistant or by calling 1-877-382-4357

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