Do you have any family members over age 65? They may not know about the grandma scam. Although the government, local agencies and sometimes the media publicize these predatory traps for elders, somehow the word doesn’t get around fast or far enough. Here at AgingParents.com, we work with a lot of families who have elders and we’ve been sounding the alarm since 2007 on this one. But it persists. Intelligent people, doctors, lawyers, professionals and non-professionals alike are being victimized. Anyone can be caught off guard.
Here’s how the grandma scam works
A call from a young person is made to the targeted older person, often at night, after the aging person is asleep. Half awake, grandma answers the phone. “It’s me, Grandma!” the caller says. Grandma immediately falls into the trap and says “Michael, is that you?” Or any grandchild who is named instantly becomes the identity of the caller. ”Yes, it’s Michael!” the scammer says quickly. He then says he’s in trouble in some named city far away or even a foreign country. He’s lost his passport or been arrested, he’s in the hospital, he’s very sick, or some concocted tale of needing help desperately. There is a pain in his voice. He says how much he loves his Grandma and please don’t tell his parents. He needs money right away for the bill or for a lawyer to get him out of jail or to get a new passport, etc. Would Grandma please wire the money? The targeted victim has to act right away. But repeatedly, older gullible people are swayed by the feeling of wanting to help a grandchild in need. And they don’t take the time to think.
Grandma is so concerned, she gets that cash wired to the scammer right away. She doesn’t check anything out and she doesn’t call her son or daughter, the parents of the fake grandchild. It takes a while before she realizes she’s been had. Millions of dollars are lost this way, in smaller amounts at a time. No matter how much the press reports this kind of scam, the thieves keep at it, as they know that about one in fifty calls will result in getting money from an unsuspecting person.
Why are these con artists getting away with it? Dialing for dollars all day is quicker and easier than robbing a bank and it gets better results. The con artists rarely get caught. The money, once wired, is gone forever from the victim. And due to shame and embarrassment, victims rarely report the scam artists to the police. Con men buy names from subscription lists with likely senior citizen readers or from other information brokers. Some have the ages of their targets and their addresses. Sometimes the more sophisticated ones have even researched the names of family members, so calling Grandma is more likely to sound credible. If the caller’s voice isn’t recognizable, there is always an excuse: I have a cold, I’m really sick, or anything that works to persuade Grandma it’s really her grandson.
What’s the takeaway?
Your parent or grandparent can be easily tricked under the right circumstances. Wanting a call from grandkids is the starting point for scammers. It triggers an emotional response to the plea for help. “I love you” is something the grandparent wants to hear and the emotional hook is the basis of the con man’s success. Warn every older person in your life to be aware of the scam and to ask the caller a question only a real grandchild would know: the name of a pet, a parent’s birth date or a nickname.
If you need to have some conversations about this, and finances in general in your family but aren’t quite sure how to get started, here’s a tool for you: The Family Guide to Aging Parents, Answers to Your Legal, Healthcare, and Financial Questions. The first chapter is about what you need to know about finances and aging loved ones. It’s a great start for anyone to keep your loved ones safer.
Carolyn Rosenblatt is the co-author of Succeed with Senior Clients: A Financial Advisor’s Guide to Best Practices (www.aginginvestor.com). Rosenblatt is a registered nurse and elder law attorney and has more than 45 years combined experience in her professions. She has been quoted in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Money magazine and many other publications.