Beware The Grannie Scammers

Watch out, grannie, there’s a new scam out there and they’ve got your number. Like we told you last week, conmen are calling up elderly folk and using social engineering to pose as their grandchildren, and they need money money fast. Usually they say they were traveling in Canada and just got in a car accident and need thousands of dollars for repairs or bail. How do the scammers fool the grandparents?

They say things like, “it’s me, your favorite grandchild.” The grandparent might fill in the name of the grandchild the person sounds like and the con goes on from there. I’ll bet you anything the scammers are using demographically targeted telemarketing lists. While many citizens have recognized the scam and reported it, others fell prey. One person sent $15,000.

One thing we didn’t mention last week is that right here we have a classic scam sign ripped from the pages of The Field Guide to Scam Identification and Detection. Remember that anytime ANYONE asks for money to be wired, it’s a giant warning sign that you might be getting scammed. Proceed with extra caution. In this case, call the grandchild back directly or speak with other family members to verify. Most Consumerist readers are probably too savvy to fall for this, so share this information with other family members and friends who could benefit from it.

Senior Citizens Nationwide Report Losing Thousands of Dollars to Telephone Scam [BBB]
Ogden couple falls victim to scam [KSL]
‘Emergency’ scam targets senior citizens [KATU]

PREVIOUSLY: Scammers Pose As Grandchildren Pleading For Emergency Cash

(Photo: Getty)


Edit Your Comment

  1. elisa says:

    Wait…didn’t I read this article very recently on Consumerist?

    or am I finally starting to imagine things?

    • Farquar says:

      @elisa: Perhaps you should read the second sentence of this article before snarkily posting that its a repeat, and patting yourself on the back for finding the original.

      The fact that you needed to look for the original makes me happy.

      • Farquar says:


        That is, of course, assuming that Ben didn’t add that sentence in after you pointed it out.. which is suspect, and done way too often around here.

        If you add things in after original publication it should be noted as such.

        • elisa says:

          @Farquar: He did add it. When I first saw this post, it was very short, and contained no links that I remember. Definitely not the 2nd sentence.

          And I wasn’t trying to be snarky…I just thought it was weird that I’d seemingly just seen the post, and I remembered there were good links and discussion there. It just seemed unnecessary to post twice.

          • equazcion says:

            @elisa: This is disappointing. I recently grew to like Gawker sites because of how transparent and honest they are. What other magazine posts articles about layoffs within their own company?? If you guys make a mistake you should just fess up to it and say “oops”. Adding lines in and pretending they were there all along is the kind of weasely thing I’d expect from lesser sites.

          • Farquar says:

            @elisa: Knowing that the lines were added later.. I know you weren’t being snarky..

            And, again, I’ll restate:

            If you are going to add content after first publication it needs to be noted as such.. Adding substantive content (you can go ahead and change their/there/they’re all you want) without notation that it was added after first publication is intellectually dishonest.. I don’t know my journalistic code of conduct, but surely doing this can’t comply.

  2. elisa says:

    Ah, yes I did.


  3. Ariah says:

    I don’t think the kind of people would be susceptible to this scam generally read the Consumerist.

    • wattznext says:

      @Ariah: RTA

      “Most Consumerist readers are probably too savvy to fall for this, so share this information with other family members and friends who could benefit from it.”

  4. MissTicklebritches says:

    I wish the mainstream media were more diligent in their coverage of stories like this. My older relatives don’t read this blog, and are very wary of blogs in general. If this story appeared in some of the larger newspapers, they’d read it and find it credible.

    • KyleOrton says:

      Who needs the mainstream media? If you want the elderly to read it, just mass-email them with the subject “Barack Obama does something scandalous with ethnic hussies.” From what I’ve overheard, not only will they read anything with that headline, they’ll also forward it to everyone they know and learn it by heart.

    • Jubilance22 says:

      @MissTicklebritches: A story appeared in my hometown paper, because this happened to a few folks and they called the local consumer columnist and he ran a story.

  5. equazcion says:

    As the photo suggests, always be sure to keep your grandkids’ handprints around for easy identity verification.

  6. TVarmy says:

    That is sad. My boss is a financial planner. One of his clients has been being scammed by a person claiming to work for the McCain campaign, and has been making outrageous claims about Obama. He’s convinced her to send thousands of dollars (way over the $3300 limit) to his account, and he’s obviously not part of a 527 or the official McCain campaign. My boss has been trying to convince her to stop, but it’s going nowhere.

  7. Outrun1986 says:

    I told my grandmother about these scams and she just laughed. The problem with these scams is you don’t know your getting taken when someone calls with an emergency, so it is a real problem. Also many older people cannot hear well, which is probably why this works so well. I don’t think she would be stupid enough to wire money though, she only has 3 kids and 2 grandchildren and the grandkids are under 12 years old. Anyone else other than these people she wouldn’t try to help.

  8. sweetpea12 says:

    In some Asian countries, scammers randomly call elderly people and claim that they’ve kidnapped their grandkids from school and if they don’t send them x amount of money, they’ll never see the grandkids again. Unfortunately a lot of them fall victim to this scam…I’m just surprised to see it start in America…

  9. Juliekins says:

    My grandparents are pretty smart folks and don’t fall for scammers, but I sent this to them anyway. They have lots of friends. My hope is they’ll read it, go “yeah, duh,” and then tell their friends about the scam.

    They don’t really read blogs, but they do read e-mail, the newspaper, and do some limited web surfing. I wish the MSM (our local newspaper, 60 Minutes, CNN) would cover these types of things more, too. It makes me sick to see the elderly population victimized in this manner.

    • RandomHookup says:

      @Juliekins: The problem will be that the local stations start covering the story and scare the bejesus out of everyone…

      “Gramma, it’s really me…honest. I just have a flat and need a lift home. No, Grams, I’m not a Nigerian and I don’t need you to wire me $10,000. Yes, my sister’s name is Natalie. Gramma, put down the air horn, please…just put down the…” ***BLAST***

  10. AstroPig7 says:

    Two months ago, a Colombian friend of mine received a frantic call from her parents asking if she was all right. Apparently, some scammers had called them demanding money for the safe return of their daughter. Does anyone know if the FBI (or the Colombian equivalent) will investigate phony ransom demands?

    • econobiker says:

      @AstroPig7: I heard that this is a new scam in the foreign community especially among people who fear the police (ie illegal immigrants – I am -not- implying that your friends are illegal however)

  11. pecan 3.14159265 says:

    I’d also advise Consumerist readers who do pass this information onto their elderly parents or grandparents to come up with a system of identification. Scammers are relying on people who are naive, or who aren’t updated on the latest scams or tricks to believe them, so if you come up with a simple question and answer, something that only someone who generally knew you would know (favorite book, pet’s name, etc.), scammers are more likely to just hang up because they’ve found someone who is too smart for their tricks.

    And I know, all of these calls are made during some kind of emergency situation, you’re stranded in the Mojave, you’ve got vultures picking at your feet, blah blah. I kind of doubt 2 seconds to say, “I used to sail boats with grandpa” as a code phrase takes too long.

    • nsv says:

      @IHaveAFreezeRay: Having a pass phrase is a great idea, until the scammers call grandma at two in the morning and wake her up. Mine isn’t sharp anymore at two in the afternoon, and if she’s woken up she’s completely confused.

      So a grandmother is sound asleep at two AM, the phone rings and a frantic voice says “Grandma, I just had an accident and I’m at the hospital and they won’t help me unless I pay in advance!” and my grandmother would do whatever she was told at that point.

  12. Alex7575 says:

    Any chance of getting my money back? I forgot that I don’t even have grandchildren…

  13. Marshfield says:

    Is there a similar thread about the calls you get to “help firefighters” or “buy circus tickets for disabled children” ? I swear those things are scams or near-scams too….

    • Snarkysnake says:


      “Is there a similar thread about the calls you get to “help firefighters” or “buy circus tickets for disabled children” ? I swear those things are scams or near-scams too….”

      They’re not exactly scams…But they are damn misleading. Essentially,these organizations “rent” the use of their names for professional fundraising companies to exploit in their cold calling pitch. The groups (like Shriners,Firefighters,various children’s hospitals and the like) get something like 8-10 cents on every dollar raised.I have a small business and these people call me CONSTANTLY. I tell them to go piss up a tree. I have even had a couple of the pitchmen admit that they kept the lions share of the money for “expenses”.Bastards.

      • Outrun1986 says:

        @Snarkysnake: Speaking of donations we need a thread for how walmart allows beggers and solicitors in their stores. Last trip to walmart I got asked to donate to children’s hospital at the register, the receipt checker asked me to buy a candy bar for charity x then I was bombarded by a group of kids standing at the door asking for donations to support their sports team or whatever. These people stand by the door and hound you as you are walking out. The donation begging is just getting ridiculous. No other retail store allows children and teens to bombard customers who are walking out of the store and have to use the exit to get out. I don’t mind the salvation army bell ringers because they are usually unobtrusive and rather silent, and they don’t block your path on the way out like the others do.

        I am not a scrooge and I do donate. I give a lot of toys to toys for tots every year. I give huge bags of stuff to St. Vincents. I choose my charity and donate a larger amount instead of giving a dollar here or 50 cents there. Since I am giving a product and not money I assume that the product is actually going into the hands of a poor child somewhere, and that the other donations are going to the proper places. If I gave a donation at walmart the teens at the door or the managers of walmart could be pocketing the money for all I know.

      • verdantpine says:

        @Snarkysnake: No, sometimes they’re just scams – boiler room callers who name a different charity each time they call. My husband had a call from someone and started grilling him for information about his group – he couldn’t answer any of the questions except in the vaguest possible way. “Uh, it’ll help firefighters.” []

  14. Starfury says:

    There is a special place in Hell for people that do this.

  15. Trencher93 says:

    The obvious question – how do marks who fall for scams like this get to be so old and still have any money left?

    • @Trencher93: Simple. As trite as it sounds, shit didn’t always used to be so damn sleazy, especially in this country.

      I’m 24 and even I remember when rampant, mostly legal fraud wasn’t this widespread.

      A partial list of legal fraud that is going on as we speak: Herbalife, Ringtone services (“Text CHINGY to 12345 for a free* ringtone!”), Free Credit Report dot com, Vector Marketing, Scientology, those fake charity telemarketing calls where the firefighters/whatever get 8 cents on the dollar of your donations, the asshats who call me at work trying to sell me $30 toner cartridges for $500, and most of the spam email selling fake rolexes and mortgages.

      All of the above are 100% legal. The scumbag element population discovered the way to steal without ever even taking a chance of doing time–by pretending their stealing is acually a technically-legal “business” and tricking people, usually by clever use of ultra fine print. Since businesses today are pretty much guaranteed the right to steal as long as they can blame it on the customers’ ignorance, this works great.

  16. awh_tokyo says:

    This is a very common scam here in Japan. They’re called “ore-ore” scams here because “ore-da” is a short (therefore hard to hear a difference in voice) way of saying “it’s me” that you would normally say to a family member.

    It works really well here because wire transfer is the usual method of paying for anything here, from electric bills and rent to online purchases. It’s even common for friends to lend each other spending cash using wire transfer if they happen to not be in the same part of the city that day. So doing a wire transfer is seen as “no big deal” and typically the scammers only ask for 50,000 or 100,000 yen, not enough to make the employees at the bank question why they are transferring so much money.