Scammers Pose As Grandchildren Pleading For Emergency Cash

The BBB has issued a warning about a distressing telephone scam that’s increasing in popularity. The target? Grandparents. Scammers based in Canada are thought to be randomly dialing US phone numbers until they reach someone who sounds like a senior citizen. They then pose as a grandchild who has been in a car accident and needs emergency money.

The BBB says:

While many seniors have reported the scam without falling prey to it, unfortunately, many others have been victimized. One well-meaning grandmother sent $15,000 to scammers, thinking she was helping a grandchild who had been in an auto accident.

Law enforcement officials are not certain how perpetrators are obtaining phone numbers for so many senior citizens across the U.S. However, it is believed that scammers are most likely calling random numbers until they happen to reach a senior citizen. The scammers’ basic tactic is to pose as a grandchild and let the unsuspecting grandparent fill in the blanks. For example, the scam caller might say, “It’s me, your favorite grandchild,” to which the grandparent will guess the name of the grandchild it sounds the most like, and then the call proceeds from there.

The BBB also alerted us to several examples of people who have been victimized by the scam. Here’s one from Utah:

When the phone rang in the middle of the night, Vernon and Alice Harper knew something was wrong. Alice said the caller told her, “Oh, I’m sorry, Grandma. I’m really sorry to do this to you.” She said it sounded a little bit like he was crying. The caller told them, “I’m in trouble, Grandma. I’m up here in Toronto. I need money. I’m in jail. I had a rented car, and I wrecked it.”

They thought the caller was their grandson, so Alice wired $4,400. The caller said his calling card only had a few minutes and he didn’t have much time, but could she wire the money within two hours? He would call back in two hours to get the personal identification number.

Once Alice got to Wal-Mart to get the MoneyGram, she wanted to be safe about it, so she asked the clerk to tack on a security question, something only her grandson would know. But on the other end of the transaction, nobody asked her security question to the con artist. She had already given him the personal identification number, and that’s all the clerk on the Canada end asked for. MoneyGrams use personal identification numbers instead of requiring ID to wire money. As long as you have the pin, you can get the money.

And here’s another one where a grandmother sent $5,300 to someone claiming to be one of her 50 grandchildren.

The BBB has some advice for people who spot this scam, or are victimized by it:

BBB recommends reporting the incident immediately to local police departments and state Attorneys General offices. If there is a request to wire money to Canada, the Canadian Anti-Fraud Call Centre has established the PhoneBusters hotline and Web site to report such fraud. Reports can be filed easily online through the PhoneBusters site at:, or by phone, toll free at, 1-888-495-8501.

BBB Alert: Senior Citizens Nationwide Report Losing Thousands of Dollars to Telephone Scam
(Photo: davidbivins )


Edit Your Comment

  1. BeeBoo says:

    Can someone with 50 grandchildren even remember all their names?

    • sjaguar says:

      @BeeBoo: Maybe if they are named the way George Foreman named his kids. :)

    • BlondeGrlz says:

      @BeeBoo: My Granny can – including the inlaws and great-grandchildren – but she would tell us to just sit in jail and suffer.

    • mugsywwiii says:

      My grandmother is probably at around 30 now between grandchildren and great-grandchildren. I’m sure she couldn’t list them in alphabetical order; maybe by order of birth. It’s not hard to go through your children and remember who their children are though.

      I, on the other hand, might be able to name half of my white trash cousins, I and couldn’t name a single one of their kids.

    • celestebai says:

      @BeeBoo: What, you don’t know 50 people and their names?

      • BeeBoo says:

        @celestebai: I can’t remember all the names of my first cousins once removed. My grandmother had three children and seven grandchildren and maybe sixteen great grandchildren and she was always calling my sister by my mother’s name and me by the other grandson’s name. Considering she probably has barely seen some of them it might be a little hard for her to keep up with 50 grandchildren.

    • BytheSea says:

      @BeeBoo: My gran knows all our names, and there’s 30 of us, she just can’t get the right name out at the right kid. “Matt — Steve — James — that kid over there! Stop that!”

  2. ezacharyk says:

    I remember this from a while back. This is a popular scam in Japan, where family honor works in the scammer’s favor. The scammer poses as a wealthy person who threatens to sue the family if they don’t wire money to them right away to cover damages.

    When I read about it last, they said it was starting to creep up in the US.

  3. brent_r says:

    Wow, that’s low.
    And in Canada?

  4. Don’t these grandparents call their kids to find out why they aren’t helping their own kids? I know in my family, my Grandmother would have called my Mother and guilted her for hours b/c she wouldn’t help me. I understand some families don’t use guilt as much as mine does, and this is just despicable.

    • CupcakeKarate says:

      @Git Em SteveDave loves this guy–>: I could see situations where they might not. Plus, the idea of the scam is that it’s an emergency and they have to act quickly. One would think, though, that before sending a large sum of money, you’d be making sure it was secure.

      • alexawesome says:

        @LindsayC: If you’re worried about the kid and you believe that it’s really them and they’re in an emergency situation, you aren’t concerned about the cash – just making sure your loved one is okay.

        It’s kind of how the scam works, actually…

    • Anonymous says:

      This just happened to my mom. The scammer asked her ” don’t tell Mom and Dad for a while” and also promised to pay her back AND to call her when he was safe back at school. She didn’t want to violate the trust of the person she thought was her grandson, so she didn’t tell me (her son and father of her only grandson) until two days later when she didn’t hear from him.

  5. This is so sad. How scummy can someone be to pull this crap?

    Everyone should forward this to all their older relations.

    • lodigr says:

      @TakingItSeriously: Crimes against old people should be treated as severely as crimes against children.

    • HogwartsAlum says:


      Only my dad doesn’t have email.

      My mom does; I’ll send it to her and she’ll tell my dad about it. His oldest grandchild, my nephew, is old enough to get into this kind of trouble. But my dad is pretty good about not giving out his stuff.

  6. sjaguar says:

    This just recently happened to my brother-in-law’s paternal grandparents. The scammers called and said “do you know who this is?” Grandmother said “is this xxxx?” “Yes it is. I’m stuck and need help.” Since the scammers said my brother-in-law was in an unlikely location, she was smart enough to call his mom to double check.

    Fortunately, she did not send any money. But, she was reluctant to call the police about the matter. Maybe she was embarrassed about the matter. I could easily see how she (or anyone else) could fall for this.

  7. sassbrown74 says:

    In Canada? Why do these things always seem to originate up here?

    On the flip side, I don’t know whether to forward this to my grandmother or not. I’ve had to make a phone call or two like this in the past!

  8. humphrmi says:

    “I’m in trouble, Grandma. I’m up here in Toronto. I need money. I’m in jail.”

    My first rule with my kids (which I hope they will pass down to their kids someday): if you get arrested, make yourself comfortable… we’ll see you in the morning (late morning. Maybe early afternoon. ;)

    The wrecked car won’t get any more wrecked by the time I get there.

    • RandaPanda says:

      That sounds like my parents as well. LoL I spent one night in jail (for something I didn’t do mind you), and my mom said she’d be there in the morning to pick me up. They wouldn’t release me till she got there…at 5PM when she got off work. *sigh*

  9. yungjerry703 says:

    never would work on my grandma, she would just talk them to death, or they would just hang up after thr first hour.

  10. PlanetExpressdelivery says:

    Why not simply impose capital punishment for shysters like this if caught? Nothing like the death penalty to deter wire fraud. Either that, or we should require mandatory military service (immediate overseas deployment upon completion of BT). Is that 4-5000 dollars worth 2 to 4 years of service?

    • Tallanvor says:

      @PlanetExpressdelivery: Unfortunately, if the Supreme Court won’t allow the death penalty for child rapists, I don’t think it would be considered kosher in this case either.

      • PlanetExpressdelivery says:

        I never said anything about the Supreme Court…or the government for that matter. Nothing like a good ole vigilante with a .44. Nothing like starting most of my sentences with “nothing like” either.

        I know it’s not realistic either, but why don’t we brand people who are 100% without a doubt guilty of certain crimes? Robbed more than a few convenience stores? You get a large “I’m a convicted robber” on your forehead. Child rapist? You get a “I’m a child molester” on your forehead and a bonus “Kids, don’t touch this” above the navel.

        • PlanetExpressdelivery says:

          @PlanetExpressdelivery: Almost forgot to mention that, yes, discrimination would be an issue. Then again, if someone commits the same crime over and over again, maybe the discrimination is deserved.

  11. Eilonwynn says:

    Well, considering i’m in toronto, and broke, and need money, and have an american grandma…

    who would never in a million years send me money, ever.


  12. shorty63136 says:

    1 – This is freakin LOW, man. I don’t know about you guys but my granny is on a fixed income. I’d go postal if somebody did this to her.

    2 – I didn’t know Wal-Mart money services stayed open past 10pm (11 during the Holidays) – ANYWHERE.

    3 – Can that lady sue the money transfer service because they did not confirm the security question? Ball dropped on their part.

  13. techstar25 says:

    I saw one such incident on a TV news show. Something like this: It was during spring break. The call comes from Mexico and the caller claims they are a friend of who is on spring break, but was injured in an accident and can’t speak. So the parent must wire cash immediately so the kid can get the special operation in the special Mexican hospital.
    This way they don’t even need to impersonate the kid. They just claim the kid is incapacitated in the hospital.

  14. TheAlphateam says:

    This is a great idea. I would have never thought of it. Thanks Comsumerist!

  15. graceless says:

    It’s hard to catch con men, it is. That’s no reason for people not to try. By the way, boys and girls, when dealing with con men, or a con team, they often work in teams you know, it is always better to OVER react than to under react. Make some noise. Snitch them out, post their pictures online, or on telephone polls. Whatever you can think of… give the next mark a little bit of a trail. Also the next, and the next and the next…

  16. mugsywwiii says:

    Same thing happened in the movie Criminal, but it was in person. Not a new con. Old people are gullible easy to scam, unfortunately.

    • BytheSea says:

      @mugsywwiii: People have used this trick for centuries to convince people they could tell the future or speak to the dead. It works on the average person because it plays on their deepest emotions – grief in the case of John Edwards, or in this case, fear.

  17. edro says:

    it happened here in Lincoln, Nebraska. A grandmother sent almost $18,000 to her “grandson” in Canada and thankfully, the woman’s bank stepped in to stop her from sending more $$. Here is the article:


  18. GearheadGeek says:

    For this sort of crime, we should bring back crucifixion as a criminal punishment.

  19. EmperorOfCanada says:

    I was wondering that myself.. mind you it might just be a very small group of people perpetrating all the scams.

  20. juiceboxonfire says:

    They did a story on 20/20 or Dateline a few years ago on this. They said that they used phone books to look up “old people names” like Joyce and Mabel.

    • zibby says:

      @juiceboxonfire: Ha! Mabel was my grandmother’s name. Some of her friends were Thelma, Dell, Myrtle, and…Mabel.

      I’m starting to see some kids named Mabel, though – it was due for a comeback.

      • econobiker says:

        @zibby: Don’t need the phone book any more- just look up the ss administrations most popular baby names by decades and focus on first names from the 1930s, 1940s and maybe 1950s now…

  21. TacoDave says:

    I’ve got at least 40 cousins on my dad’s side of the family, and I can’t remember who is who, who has kids, where they live, etc. I imagine it would be easy for a senior citizen to be even more confused.

  22. jwissick says:

    disgusting. There needs to be a special prison just for these losers. One that closely resembles the different levels of hell.

  23. sir_eccles says:

    I heard of a similar scam, basically this guy calls up and says he’s from the government and you have to pay $700m right away to save his ailing economy.

  24. Tiber says:

    I personally think the way we should look to reducing the number of scams is to go through their main channels. As it is now, wiring money is how all this money changes hands. If we kept a record of people accepted the money, and blacklisted those suspected of fraud, we could at least reduce the amount of fraud taking place. Likewise, if companies tracked the usage of stolen credit card users rather than just cutting off the card and writing off the losses, I think we could have at least some impact on fraud.

    The government needs to admit this is happening and do something. It doesn’t have to just be regulation though. The government could offer rewards for successful convictions, as well as other incentives. As it is now, it seems the only kind of theft the government is interested in stopping is people torrenting music.

  25. "I Like Potatoes" says:

    Maybe if you went by “Memaw and Pepaw” this wouldn’t happen. If anyone called my mom and called her “grandma” she would be instantly tipped off. None of the grandkids has ever called her that.
    I think the worst part of the story is when they say to the elderly person “this is your favorite grandchild”, and the grandparent actually admits to having one!

    • mobiuschic42 says:

      @algal924: Eh, I’m not sure exactly what they said to my grandma when they called, but I know I might say something like that, jokingly. Though, certainly not if I was in trouble.

  26. ShachiAssaracus says:

    Sadly, this happened to the grandfather of a friend of mine just about three weeks. He got scammed for about $5K.

  27. stevejust says:

    Kids, call your grandparents more often. They’re lonely and they miss you.

    And you might get some money out of ’em!

  28. mobiuschic42 says:

    My grandma got one of these calls, and she’s hard of hearing and thought they said my name!
    My parents (who live halfway across the country from me) were a little worried, but they knew I knew better than to ask for money from my grandma who’s living off social security.

  29. mobiuschic42 says:

    @Git Em SteveDave loves this guy–>: My 85 year old grandma doesn’t have my cell phone number handy and is not quite so sharp anymore (my aunt lives with her but works during the day), so she was really worried when she got one of these scam callers claiming to be me.
    Not all grandparents can keep on their toes like that.

  30. opsomath says:

    that’s terrible. I would hunt the bastards down myself.

    That being said, my grandmother has been around the block a couple of times, co-running my grandfather’s business with him when he was alive. This often involved bailing actual employees out of jail when they got in trouble…I don’t think she’d be fooled.

    And one day, when I have grandkids and I get, like, a cortex-gram beamed in through my skull port from some guy in the Central Pacific Republic claiming to be my grandkid in trouble, I’ll tell them I’ll call them back in the morning, and go back to sleep.

  31. Doublenix says:

    All your need is one piece of info and ten dollars and you can get all the rest of the info you need. It’s ridiculous how easy it is to get the info needed to do something like this. Too bad the government won’t do anything about it to fix it or do some bandage job that only gives the illusion of security.

  32. Trencher93 says:

    I always wonder how old people get to be that old and still have any money left if they fall for all the scams people pull on them.

  33. frozyme says:

    I’m pretty sure that this happened to my grandmother a few days ago (no money was scammed though)
    She called me on my cell at work to make sure that I was “Ok” because some guy called her house saying something like “Grandma, I’m not doing so well and need your help” before she realized that it wasn’t me and hung up

  34. ShubhraHalongelic says:

    An elderly woman in my hometown just got hit with this scam- not only did he take all her money, but the nearest Wal-Mart is over an hour and a half away, and he made her go twice.

  35. animeredith says:

    Wow. Preying on elderly, probably senile grandparents. What class!

  36. crashfrog says:

    This goes to show how often security fails because its inconsistent with customer service objectives.

    I gave out a lot of replacement keys to essentially unknown persons at the hotel I worked at, even though I was supposed to ask for photo ID to give out a replacement key. People would always show up in their wet swim trunks and need a key, and who goes swimming with their driver’s license?

    What was I supposed to do? Have wet, angry people camped out in the hotel lobby because I was following security policy to the letter? Bad for business.

    In this case, I’m sure the clerk saw the security question and ignored it, because the chance that he was enabling a fraudulent transaction was much lower than the chance he was simply going to piss off a legitimate customer.

  37. Argy says:

    This exact scam happened last month to one of my fellow editors on our college newspaper. His grandma got a call from a guy in Canada pretending to be him, saying he had too much to drink after a wedding (which he was really at earlier in the day) and crashed his car. The money was sent through Western Union through Wal-Mart to somewhere near Vancouver, B.C. I think the scammer got away with about $4,000.

  38. Jesse in Japan says:

    They’ve had this kind of scam in Japan for years.

  39. Saw a very similar report in my local daily news-rag sometime in the past 3(?) weeks. I thought it was a local news report referencing two elderly gentlemen that got sucker punched with the scam. The one guy had a few $ to spare (not that he deserves to loose the $, but the other guy was taping into his monthly Social Security payment to send the $ to the scammer.

    Death to scammers.

  40. LouisaTrigeminus says:

    This scam is really popular in Japan. In fact 2 elderly ladies fell victim to this scam today… the first day of “Bank Transfer Fraud Elimination Month”… with 2 police officers standing next to them in the ATM corner of the bank. /facepalm

  41. fonfa says:

    We had this scam in brazil for years too. Those scammers are usually at the jail, they can smuggle phones in and keep doing that all day long, since there’s nothing better to do

  42. Boulderite says:

    I agree with the commenter who mentioned suing Western Union, they could have helped to prevent this, but the didn’t. Why wasn’t the security question asked?