What is a Grandparent Scam?

December 30, 2023 2 mins

Scammers don’t have empathy or much of a heart. They may stop at nothing to trick someone out of their money – even if it means toying with someone’s emotions. Romance scams use false intimacy to steal money from someone, but there’s another form of fraud that pulls on someone’s heartstrings: grandparent scams.

How grandparent scams work

It’s easy for scammers to gain access to consumers’ personal information. According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), they can purchase data from cyber thieves, or simply scroll through social media to piece together a convincing story that preys on the fears of grandparents1.
 
Once the story is in place, the scammer will call the victim and impersonate a grandchild (or another close relative) in a crisis situation that requires immediate financial assistance. Sometimes these callers “spoof” the caller ID to make the incoming call appear legitimate.
 
Scammers now use artificial intelligence (AI) technology to mimic voices to convince a victim that a loved one is in distress. All it takes is a short audio sample and AI tools to hold a conversation in that voice using the imposter’s script, usually during the call.

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If a trusted person ever pressures you into sending money, the best thing you can do is hang up and call your grandchild at a number you know – never use the number provided by the scammer.”

How to spot a grandparent scam

If a family member contacts you because they’re caught in an unlikely situation, trust your instincts and hang up the phone. The FCC says to be especially vigilant if you receive a call and the imposter:

  • says they’ve been arrested
  • claims they’ve been in an accident
  • is involved in an urgent financial situation
  • begs you not to tell their mom and dad
  • hands the phone over to a lawyer or an official who demands immediate payment

How to protect yourself from a grandparent scam

If a trusted person ever pressures you into sending money, the best thing you can do is hang up and call your grandchild at the number you have stored. Never use the number provided by the scammer.

  • Resist the urge to act immediately
  • Double-check the story with another trusted person or the authorities by calling them directly
  • Never send money to someone you haven’t met in person
  • Never share personal information, including your banking and credit card details, your birthday, or Social Security number
  • Resist the urge to act immediately – if someone is pressuring you to act fast, it’s probably not a legitimate request
  • Be cautious on social media. Connect with only people you know, check your privacy settings, and use secure password or passphrases
  • Make secure, traceable payments: Never pay someone in gift cards or money orders, by wire transfer, in cash, or by other nontraditional methods. Your credit card may be able to protect you in the event of fraud.

 
If you think your Patelco account has been compromised by a grandparent scam, contact us and refer to these trusted resources for fraud victims.

1 Federal Communications Commission, “‘Grandparent’ Scams Get More Sophisticated”, updated March 9, 2023

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