Grandparent Scam Gets a 2011 Update


NEW YORK (MainStreet) —  Concerned relatives beware. The Better Business Bureau issued a red alert late last week warning consumers that scammers have updated one of their old favorites: the grandparent scam.

As previously reported, scammers have been known to target seniors by calling and posing as a grandchild in distress.  They’ll typically bait the intended victim by saying “this is your favorite grandchild” or asking “do you know who this is?” Unwitting seniors fill in the blanks by providing the name of a relative who sounds most like the person on the other end of the line.

But the scam’s subsequent publicity has led fraudsters to make a few minor adjustments to their pitch. Most notably, they are now providing their intended victims with detailed information regarding family members. 

“They lace their conversation with correct references by name to other family members, increasing their credibility,” the BBB said in a press release. “One caller even knew that the real person being impersonated had a twin who was born two minutes later.”

According to the BBB, fraudsters are also targeting relatives of the identity they are assuming, not just seniors, and the most recent reports of the scam include requests that money be wired to Mexico.  In its previous incarnation, the phony relatives had gotten in a car accident in Canada, asking for some cash to get out of trouble. Now, the back story is that they are being detained in a Mexican prison with the incarceration serving as an excuse to not contact additional relatives to confirm the whereabouts of whoever the scammer is purporting to be.

The BBB said that law enforcement officials have not discovered how these scammers obtain phone numbers and personal information about their victims. They also said that the latest victims are not related and live in different communities, so the problem is not just a localized one.

Anyone who believes they have fallen victim to this scam recently is being urged to file a complaint as part of an ongoing investigation with the BBB at 609-588-0808 or by emailing They should also file a complaint with the FBI office in their region.

The BBB also advises anyone contacted by a distressed relative to verify his or her whereabouts before wiring money. As an overall precaution, the organization urges consumers to limit the amount of information they share on social networks and refrain from accepting friend requests from people they don’t know. 

Additionally, families may want to come up with a code word that can be used if they do find themselves needing to reach out over the phone in an emergency.

Tweaking an old scam is a common trick among fraudsters. 

“Thieves are very crafty these days,” Identity Theft Risk Management Specialist Denise Richardson told MainStreet last year. “They keep updating old scams with new twists.”

Concerned seniors can find out what other scams thieves are known to try against them in this MainStreet roundup!

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