As students and family members begin to prepare for spring break, Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota ® (BBB) is warning relatives staying home – particularly grandparents – to be on the lookout for the grandparent scheme. This is when scammers contact seniors, usually over the phone, and pretend to be a grandchild in distress. As scams go, it’s been quite successful and as part of National Consumer Protection Week (NCPW), which takes place March 5 – 11, BBB offers tips to those most at risk.
“The grandparent scam plays on emotion,” said Susan Adams Loyd, President and CEO of BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota. “Grandparents, especially, are protective of their grandchildren and will do nearly anything to ensure their well-being. Scammers are all too aware of that.”
The grandparent scam usually entails a phone call claiming the caller is a loved one and in distress, often in another country. Invariably, they’ll need money wired to get them out of a jam and they’ll often beg the senior not to tell their parents. Despite the fact this scam has been successful in the past, there are signs you’re talking to a fraudster and steps to limit your exposure to this scam. BBB advises the following:
Be in the know. If you’re aware a grandchild or grandchildren will be traveling for spring break, ask questions. Find out where they’re going and how long they’ll be gone. That information might prove useful as far as avoiding this scam.
Don’t take the bait. If you pick up the phone and the caller says, ‘Grandpa/Grandma, it’s me,’ don’t give them any information. If you venture a guess (Amanda?), the caller will take that information and run with it. Make them tell you their identity.
Verify everything. In the information age, scammers have access to a lot of information. Be aware they might know the names of your grandchildren. Even so, that doesn’t mean you’re actually talking to a loved one. Listen to the information they offer and then verify it with other loved ones who will be able to tell you if the information is true.
Don’t panic. Because this scam plays on emotion, callers will really try to sell the scam. They may be in tears or their voice might break, as though they’re under a great deal of stress. Though it might be challenging, don’t rush into doing something you might well regret. In cases where this has been successful, scammers convinced seniors to wire money to supposedly bail a loved one out of jail. Only later did they discover they weren’t talking to their grandchild and their money was gone. Ask direct questions only your grandchild would be able to answer.
Know the red flags. Callers requesting that you not contact anyone else about their supposed plight – such as parents or other family members – is a sign you’re likely talking to a scammer. Despite that instinct to shield your grandchildren from additional trouble, say clearly, “I’m sorry, but I will need to contact them to verify what you’re telling me.” Be firm.
Discuss scams such as this. People – even spouses – often assume everyone is in the know about scams like the grandparent scam. However, it’s important to discuss schemes of this nature and to share information freely – such as the vacation plans of loved ones. It’s not uncommon for one grandparent to be more in tune with outside family members. Be sure that everyone is on the same page.
Whenever you have questions about a scam, possible fraud or a marketplace transaction, contact BBB at 800-646-6222 or bbb.org.