Watch out for Scammers Exploiting Your Love for Family

Friday, July 24th, 2015

My boyfriend received a call from a teenaged girl impersonating his granddaughter, saying she was in a jam in Nicaragua & needed money to be wired right away. She begged him not to tell her parents. The whole thing was fishy (it was not her voice & we were pretty certain she was in London with her family). But, the scary part was that she had my boyfriend’s granddaughter’s name, knew he was her grandfather & had his phone number (land line). We immediately called his daughter in London to confirm that his granddaughter was in London. The scammer had the nerve to call back, but we hung up on her. When we called the phone company to see if anything could be done, they stated we could call the police & then pay for a trace to the source, a not very satisfactory solution to stopping this sort of scam.

–       Mary, Naples, Florida

Mary’s story has all the hallmarks of “The Grandparent Scam.” This awful scam exploits the special feelings we have for loved ones. Sadly, this is a very common scam, so common that the Senate did an entire hearing about it and related scams last year. Scammers keep coming back to this one because it works. Consumers lost an estimated $42 million to imposter scams from 2012 to early 2014, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

How It Works

–       They throw you off balance and play on your emotions

In the grandparent scam, a fraudster will call, often in the middle of the night – to throw you off balance – claiming to be a grandchild in trouble – they may say that the car has broken down, or they’ve been robbed, or that they’ve been unjustly arrested.

–       They know things

The caller is convincing. He knows your grandchild’s name, details about your family, and maybe even a beloved pet’s name. How? Scammers are expert users of social media and glean these details from accounts before calling.

–          They create a sense of urgency

The caller says he “needs” your help, in the form of money. And he needs it right now or else something awful will happen or keep happening.

–          They demand secrecy

The caller will also demand secrecy; you can’t tell anyone, they say.

–          They want money sent in a way that can’t be reversed

Scammers often demand payment via wire transfer or prepaid card because these types of payment are largely untraceable and irreversible.

Stop the Scammers

My 80-something parents called me a few years ago to find out if my son was in jail. They’d just received a call from him saying he needed $4500 to get out of jail from a car accident… Of course, it was a scam, &, thankfully, Mom & Dad recognized it as such.  Since then they’ve had strokes & advancement of Alzheimer’s & are much more susceptible to these types of calls & requests for money.  Many of their elderly friends have had similar calls…Not sure it’s the government’s job to stop this stuff, but I’d like to be able to have a method of blocking those calls before they waste my parents’ & my time & money.

–          Mary, Lumberton, North Carolina

Scam calls should never reach your phone because, as Mary’s story illustrates, some of us can’t defend ourselves against the threat of robocall scams. To help defend the vulnerable, we and 300,000 Americans are demanding that the phone companies End Robocalls by providing consumers free tools to block robocalls. Join with us here.

Protect Yourself

If you get a call from someone claiming to be a loved one in trouble, here’s how you can defend yourself:

Stop and think;  don’t act right away. 





Hang up on the caller and independently verify the caller’s story


  • Call, text or email your grandchild and when you connect, ask a question that only s/he would know the answer to; and 
  • Call the grandchild’s parents or the number you usually use to reach him to verify his whereabouts—even if the caller pleads, “Don’t call my parents!”


Don’t send money 


Wiring money or providing a prepaid card number is the same as handing over cash: once it’s gone, it’s gone. Don’t get taken. If a loved one is really in trouble, you

Have you been victim of a robocall scam? Tell us about it in the comments.

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