The heartbreaking consequences of the grandparent scam


Public Policy Fellow

By Maureen Mahoney on Monday, April 13th, 2015

Last week, the New York Times featured the story of a woman whose grandfather fell victim to the notorious “grandparent scam.” The piece illuminates some of the unexpected ways this scam can affect consumers: it not only robs them of their  money, but it can compromise their closest relationships.

In the grandparent scam, the scammer typically phones their victim in the middle of the night. The scammer pretends to be the victim’s grandchild and claims to have fallen into serious trouble – often involving an arrest for drug possession or for driving under the influence while overseas. In this case, the scammer had researched information about the author on the Internet to make the story sound more believable. Worried for his granddaughter’s safety, the victim wired almost $6,000 to the scammer.

The grandparent scam is one of the most common imposter scams. Ann, from Newark, Delaware, tells us that she’s been approached by potential scammers. She says, “Three times we have had calls from people pretending to be grandchildren trying to get us to send money. ” According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), imposter scams involving someone purporting to be the victim’s friend or family member cost consumers $42 million from 2012 to May 2014.

But often overlooked is the damage these types of scams can wreak on the victim’s relationships. The author describes how her grandfather worried that his family would take away his independence after he became a scam victim. Moreover, he could no longer trust that it was his granddaughter on the phone. His letters to the author dwindled, and he would often hang up when she called him on the phone.

The author explains: “One afternoon, I called three times, trying to convince him that it really was me, and not someone pretending to be me. He hung up on me twice; the third call went to voice mail. I believe he’s afraid that his ears are again deceiving him. I can clearly picture him on the other end of the line, but I don’t know how to reach him.”

Consumers Union is working to prevent these types of scams. Please click here to learn how to avoid this scam that all too frequently affects seniors.

Have you been approached or fallen victim to an imposter scam? Sharing your story can help protect others – we encourage you to submit your story here.

4 responses to “The heartbreaking consequences of the grandparent scam”

  1. RG says:

    my mother was just scammed out of a lot of money!
    She was so scared she told no one until my brother found out!
    Now she is headed for the pysch ward because she is afraid of her friends and family finding out (which is inevitable) plus how ‘stupid’ she was not knowing it was not true what she was being told in order to have her continue to send them her life savings.
    Prevention would have been great,
    but I cannot find anywhere yet on how to help her deal with this 7 day hell…we need to know what to do and where there is any support.

  2. Brigette Hinte says:

    This happened to my family this weekend. Although my mother-in-law did not send money to the imposter, she THOUGHT it was my son. She then called my husband and myself to tell us, so we were shocked and terrified, even if it was for a short time. This is about the worst scam ever. Not only does it involve taking money from seniors, but it involves the ones you love. It’s cruel beyond words.

  3. Vicki Michels says:

    Yes — ask a question that only the caller should know. What did you give your mother last Mother’s Day? What is the name of your cat, and describe it? How many piercings/tattoos do you have? What happened when I took you horseback riding?

    I’ve never had this happen (yet!) but I’d know how to make sure the caller was my grandchild.

  4. Tammy Socher says:

    This happened to me. I was suspicious and asked the caller to say my maiden name. He cursed me and hung up.

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