Imagine this… You are an elderly grandparent who lives alone.
You get a call in the middle of the night from your college-aged granddaughter. She’s frantic and crying, telling you she was mistakenly arrested while vacationing in Cancun.
She says she needs you to pay her $1,800 bond, or she’ll be transferred to a dangerous Mexican prison. The Mexican police told her she only has a few hours before she’s transferred, so she needs you to wire the money immediately.
She’s petrified about her parents finding out she was arrested and begs you not to tell them. Because she only has a couple of minutes to use the police station phone, the call ends abruptly before you can get any further details.
What do you do?
If you’re like the thousands of others who’ve gotten just such a call, you’d probably wire the money in a heartbeat. It is your grandchild’s life after all. However, just like the others, you’d soon find out that your granddaughter hasn’t been arrested and was never in Mexico.
The Grandparent Scam
Known as the Grandparent Scam , this con has been around for years, and while it may seem far- fetched, it has tricked many caring seniors. I answered the phone earlier this week to a young man saying “Grandma.” His voice was sad and he sounded frightened. I told the young man I was aware of this scam and hung up. However, I’m not a grandparent (at least not yet) and I’m an attorney who has had to help clients who were victims of this scam. Unfortunately, in recent months, there has been an uptick in the number of people falling prey to the deception.
The details can vary, but the scam typically works like this:
1) You get a call from someone pretending to be your grandchild. The “grandchild” explains he or she is in trouble and needs money immediately. They might be in jail and need bond or be stranded in a foreign country and need money to get out.
2) The caller asks you to wire money to a specific location or give it to a third party, usually someone posing as a lawyer or police officer.
3) The “grandchild” will often plead with you not to tell their parents they’re in trouble.
4) Once you send the money, the caller breaks off all contact, making it impossible to recover your funds.
Preying on the vulnerable
While just about anyone can fall for such scams, the elderly are the ones targeted most often. This is due to the fact that seniors are frequently lonely and eager to hear from family. And whether it’s because their hearing is failing or because they haven’t seen their family members in a while, they’re more likely to not recognize voices.
Due to their advanced age, seniors are also less likely to think clearly in a crisis, making them more susceptible to fear and panic. Finally, the elderly are less familiar with technology and social media, so they don’t realize how easy it is to access enough of someone’s personal details to make the scenario seem realistic.
In most cases, the best course of action is to simply hang up and contact the authorities. However, if the caller really does sound like the family member they claim to be, here are some steps you can take to help verify the situation is legitimate:
1) Don’t panic. It’s far easier to be deceived if you’re nervous or scared.
2) Be wary of calls from unknown or blocked numbers. Ask to call them back on the person’s own phone, and never accept requests sent solely by email or text.
3) Verify the caller’s identity by asking them questions only the actual person would know the answer to, such as the name of their first pet.
4) Beware of urgent demands that money be sent immediately. Reputable sources don’t try to pressure you into making split-second financial decisions.
5) Call other family and friends to verify where the person is. A reputable source will respect your caution and give you the opportunity to verify the facts.
6) Requests for money to be wired are often scams, as it’s nearly impossible to get your money back in cases of fraud. Request a more secure transaction method, such as through a bank or PayPal. Legitimate sources are likely to offer multiple payment options.
Please share this article with any seniors in your life. There are countless other scams out there that work in much the same way, so even if it’s not this particular con, by becoming aware how these deceptions work, they’ll be much less likely to fall for them.
Of course, scams and cons are just one threat to seniors’ financial security. Without comprehensive estate planning, there are numerous other ways your family’s wealth and assets can be squandered or lost which have nothing to do with fraud.
This article is a service of Stephanie Scarborough (internal like to my bio), Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session, ™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today (internal link to our contact us form) to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.