Protect Yourselves and Loved Ones from Grandparent Scams


Protect Yourselves and Loved Ones from Grandparent Scams

Protect Yourselves and Loved Ones from Grandparent Scams

It is always scary to think of your loved ones being in some kind of trouble or danger, especially for a grandparent who may not always be close to their grandchildren. Our instinct to hearing a loved one needs help is to act immediately, and scammers unfortunately know this. Since 2008, the Grandparent Scam has been sweeping the nation and preying on a grandparent’s instinct to help their grandchild. Therefore, it is imperative that you learn how to protect yourself and your loved ones from falling prey to the grandparent scam.


The Internet Crime Complaint Center has been receiving complaints of the grandparent scam since 2008. Named because the most common victims are concerned grandparents, the Grandparent Scam refers to “a con artist [that] calls or emails elderly victims claiming to be a relative or lawyer of a relative in distress” (FBI). The scam usually takes three forms:

  1. Legal Trouble – someone impersonating a loved one or the “legal counsel” of a loved one calls saying they need a certain amount of money to get the loved one out of legal trouble.
  2. Medical Trouble – a scammer impersonates a loved one or medical professional saying there has been an accident of some sort and in order to get treatment, a certain amount of money is owed
  3. International Trouble – a scammer impersonates foreign authorities or the loved one to say they have gotten in trouble in a foreign country and money must be sent to get them out of it. A subset of this type included the targeting of those with loved ones overseas doing military service.

In 2019 alone, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) had over 20,000 cases of the grandparent scam reported.

Signs of a Grandparent Scam

Unfortunately for victims, technology has made it easier than ever for scammers to trick them. Scammers can now use technology to spoof the Caller ID so their actual loved one’s name shows up. This information is often gathered off social media, so it is important to both limit what is online and limit who can see your information on social media. Criminals can also gather information by purchasing data from cyber thieves.

Signs of a grandparent scam include:

  • Calling in the middle of the night to catch victims in a vulnerable state.
  • Being urged by the caller not to tell anyone so the “relative” does not get in trouble.
  • Making victims feel panicked by creating a sense of urgency to send funds.
  • Asking victims to send funds by gift card, wire transfer, mail to a specific address, or even offering to come to their door.

Note: According to the FTC, it is always a scam if someone asks you to pay by gift card or wire transfer.

How to Combat Grandparent Scams

We understand that hearing a loved one may be hurt or in trouble can cause panic. However, the best way to combat grandparent scams is to stop and slow down. Before sending any funds, independently contact the relative in question at a known phone number. If you cannot get in contact with them, try a relative who would know their whereabouts. As a preventative measure, some families come up with a password to validate their identity. When pressed for this password, the scammer will usually hang up and not call back.

As mentioned previously, it is also important to limit a scammer’s access to yourself or your personal information. Never volunteer information on calls not initiated by yourself. Remember: you are under no obligation to open your door (literally or metaphorically) for a stranger. The simplest way to avoid a scam is to avoid initial contact with the scammer.

If you are a victim…

If you are a victim of a grandparent scam, immediately contact your local law enforcement. The amount victims are usually scammed out of does not meet the threshold for FBI involvement. Additionally, if you send money via credit union, call their hotline immediately. The postmaster may also be able to intercept any money sent through the mail. Finally, report the scam to

Grandparent scams are deeply unsettling, and it is easy to see why so many people fall victim to their panic inducing tactics. It’s important to remember that many scams can be avoided by taking the time to stop and slow down.  


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