A busy travel season often presents opportunities for scammers to attempt the so-called “grandparent scam.” Receiving a frantic phone call may scare people into letting their guard down, but Better Business Bureau (BBB) encourages everyone to make sure they know signs of this scam as COVID-19 restrictions are relaxed and travel increases.
If you get such a call, resist requests to send money immediately. Ask for a phone number to contact the person back, then check with other relatives to confirm the location of the person in question.
Requests for you to send money by Western Union, MoneyGram, or a prepaid card like Green Dot or MoneyPak are often a scam.
This scam tends to be particularly popular when students are traveling and family members are thinking about their general safety. Scammers will call family members and pretend to be a child, grandchild or friend who has run into a difficult situation while traveling. The scammer may claim to have been arrested, mugged or hospitalized and make urgent pleas for money.
Consumers nationwide have reported nearly 600 “family/friend emergency” scams to BBB Scam Tracker in the last three years.
A St. Louis woman reported in March 2020 that she received a call from a young man pretending to be her son and claiming to need help and money.
“I wonder, if I sounded elderly, if he would have pretended to be my grandson,” the woman told BBB.
A Fordland, Missouri, man told BBB he received a phone call in December 2019 that claimed his granddaughter had been arrested following an accident and needed nearly $10,000 for bail money.
Here are some tips to avoid the grandparent scam:
- Know the red flags. Typically, the grandparent receives a frantic phone call from a scammer posing as a grandchild or a friend of the grandchild. The “grandchild” explains that he or she is in some kind of trouble and needs help. The "grandchild" pleads to the grandparents not to tell his or her parents and asks that they wire thousands of dollars for reasons such as posting bail, repairing a car, covering lawyer's fees, or even paying hospital bills.
- Stay calm. Emergency scams count on an emotional reaction. It’s important to resist the pressure to act quickly or react to the caller’s distress. Tell them you’ll call back and ask for a number. Contact your grandchild or another family member to determine whether or not the call is legitimate and confirm the whereabouts of the grandchild.
- Ask a personal question, but don’t disclose too much information. If a caller says "It's me, Grandma!" don't respond with a name, but instead let the caller explain who he or she is. One easy way to confirm their identity is to ask a simple question that the grandchild would know such as what school he or she goes to or their middle name. Your family might consider developing a secret code or password that can be used to verify a true emergency.
- Do not wire money. Wiring money is like giving cash — once you send it, you can’t get it back. If you are asked to wire money based on a request made over the phone, especially overseas, consider it a red flag. Always make certain of the recipient’s identity before using a wire service or prepaid debit cards.
- Communicate. Students should share travel plans with family members before leaving the state or country. Parents are encouraged to let extended family members know when their child is traveling.
- Make a report. To report a scam or learn more about the latest scams trending in your area, go to bbb.org/scamtracker.