Inside the Grandparents Scam: A Con Artist Reveals All

FWN Con artistEn español | Donald and Ola Mae got scammed doing what any grandparent would do. Peter got them because he knew that love, indeed, conquers all.

The secret to Peter’s success, like that of any scammer, was to get Donald and Ola Mae to think with their hearts instead of their heads – to get them “under the ether,” as it is called.

Think with your emotions and you don’t think rationally, and that’s what turns targets into victims.

That’s why the Grandparents Scam continues strong – and why you need to watch this important public service video from AARP’s Fraud Watch Network:

Few emotions are as powerful as love. So when a phone call comes, claiming a grandchild was hurt or arrested, and your help – your money – is needed, you listen. Just ask Donald and Ola Mae … or thousands of others who continue to fall for this rampant and especially despicable ruse that’s been going strong for at least six years.

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The voice on the phone may not sound like your grandchild, but the explanation – at that moment – sounds plausible. “If they say it doesn’t sound like [the grandchild], you say, ‘In the accident I hit my nose,'” explains Peter.

You want to believe because you need to help. You love your grandkids and would do anything for them, including ignoring that voice inside your head.

The one coming from your heart always speaks louder.

Watch the video above. Learn from it. And know that it isn’t your grandchild calling in the wee hours, pleading for your money, your love, your silence. It’s a scammer pumping you with ether.

Also know this:

  • Don’t fill in the blanks. If the caller says, “Hi Grandpa!” or “It’s me, your favorite grandson,” don’t respond like Donald – who offered a name, his grandson Jeff. Instead, make the caller provide a name by asking something like “Which one?” Many fraudsters will hang up, unable to answer.


  • Don’t bite even with correct “identification.” Some scammers behind this ruse may use the actual names of your grandchildren to make their claims more authentic. This information is usually gleaned online – from Facebook, ancestry websites or published obituaries (grandparents who were called often had lost a spouse in previous months, and obits included the names of grandchildren). Some online telephone directories also list “Possible relatives,” sometimes providing their ages, and a scammer can simply do some math to guess likely grandkids.


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  • Whether or not a “real” name is provided, say you will return the call to your grandchild at his or her home or cellphone (but don’t ask the caller for it). If you don’t have the phone numbers, contact a trusted family member for them.


  • Have a question. It’s unlikely that a scammer will know the name of a grandchild’s family pet or what Christmas present was provided or received. But your real grandchild will, so ask such information to separate the wheat from the shaft. Again, expect a quick hang-up from scammers who cannot provide it.


  • Don’t trust wire transfer requests. Scammers like them because with a confirmation number for a Western Union or MoneyGram transfer – always requested in a follow-up call – that money can be picked up anywhere in the world, no matter where your “grandchild” alleges to be. Wire transfers are just like sending cash. But there’s more salt for your wounds: When money is sent to another country, outside the jurisdiction of U.S. law enforcement, it’s virtually impossible to recoup scam losses. Prepaid debit cards are also requested in this and other scams because they, too, can be used almost anywhere and are harder to trace than traditional bank-issued cards.


  • The best advice: Just hang up on midnight “help me” calls from grandchildren – and legitimately confirm their safety and whereabouts by phoning them or their parents.


For information about other scams, sign up for the Fraud Watch Network. You’ll receive free email alerts with tips and resources to help you spot and avoid identity theft and fraud, and gain access to a network of experts, law enforcement and people in your community who will keep you up to date on the latest scams in your area.

Photo: Louish Pixel/Flickr


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