Caring Currents

Beware: Scammers Are Targeting Grandparents

Last updated: Oct 17, 2008

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There's a new reason to be wary of phone calls from unfamiliar numbers in middle of the night: what the Better Business Bureau (BBB) is calling the "Grandparent Scam."

Hundreds of seniors -- from California to New Hampshire -- are filing complaints, reporting late-night phone calls from unfamiliar numbers. On the other end of the line is a younger-sounding voice claiming to be the recipient's favorite grandchild, relating a sad story about how he's in trouble in Canada and needs some cash immediately. The anti-fraud center in Canada says it has received about 350 complaints about the scam so far.

The usually-male caller says he's "your favorite grandchild," and lets his so-called grandparent fill in the name. The "grandchild" on the phone then says he's been involved in a car accident and needs thousands of dollars immediately to post bail or pay for the damages.

"The scam is just despicable because it preys on the emotions of seniors who want nothing more than to ensure the safety of their grandchildren," says Zach Vander Meeden, a spokesman for the BBB. One woman was scammed out of $15,000, according to the BBB, and there have been scattered reports of seniors who've sent thousands of dollars to various locations in Canada, including Wal-Mart stores.

To help protect yourself or the person you're caring for from this type of scam, the BBB recommends that you:

  • Remain calm -- even if you receive an apparent emergency phone call -- until you've verified the identity of the caller.
  • Check the story with other family members before sending money or taking any further action.
  • View any request to wire money through a service like Western Union as a big red flag -- many scammers request that you wire money because it's very difficult to trace wired funds and they're rarely recoverable.

Photo by Flickr user Brymo, used under the Creative Commons Attribution License.