“Grandparent’s” Scam Targets More than Just Seniors

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Better Business Bureau

The phrase ‘“grandparent’s” scam’ rings a bell for many people: a little old lady receives a call from her grandson, claiming that there’s an emergency and asking for money. The grandmother, worried sick, quickly wires over a large amount. Unfortunately, in reality it was all a scam and the grandson is perfectly fine; but the grandmother has lost a few thousand dollars to an imposter. This happened to my own grandparents just a few weeks ago – luckily a bank teller recognized that they were being scammed and stopped them from wiring money to a fraudster.

This type of scam is common, and recent reports prompted the FTC to release a warning about the phenomenon. However, the term “grandparent’s” scam is a misnomer. The better term for this fraudulent activity is a “family or friend emergency”, or “family emergency impostor” scam, and anyone can be a target. 

In fact, seniors aren’t necessarily the ones that need to be worried. Although those over 65 reported three times more of these scams to BBB Scam Tracker than those under 65, seniors lost less than half the amount of money to the scam than younger folks did.

This isn’t surprising – according to new research by the Better Business Bureau (BBB), seniors are less susceptible to scams than societal stereotypes suggest. People under 45 actually make up 69% of scam victims. It’s important for people of all ages to be aware of the “family or friend emergency” scam because it can happen to anyone. Additionally, the median loss of $2,750 for this scam is the largest of all scam types.

This scam plays out in a distinctive way. A “niece” or “nephew”, “grandchild”, “cousin”, “friend” or “child” reaches out to a friend or family member through phone or email, claiming there’s an emergency. They’re out of the country and something bad happened, they’ve been arrested or done something embarrassing, or they’ve been in an accident – and they need money immediately. They provide all sorts of reasons why you should pay in the moment and not tell anyone else about their predicament. According to the FTC, these calls are almost always scams no matter how convincing they sound.

If you receive a call like this, you can attempt to verify the identity of the caller by asking for their birthday or middle name: this will often immediately discredit the scammer. The FTC recommends that you hang up and call the family member or friend directly, and never send money to someone who calls and asks for it.

Report these scams, and all others, to BBB Scam Tracker at bbb.org/scamtracker and the FTC at ftccomplaintassistant.gov. It’s important to educate yourself and all of your family members and friends, not just your grandparents, about this scam: BBB research found that 80% of people say knowing about a scam helped them avoid becoming a victim.