There are few things more precious than the love between grandparents and their grandchildren, but to scammers, strong emotional bonds are only avenues for exploitation. The worst fear of any grandparent is something bad happening to their grandchild, especially if they’re supposedly far away from home, or in legal trouble.

These situations can understandably cause loved ones to act on emotion rather than critical thinking, overlooking logical fallacies and inconsistencies that less emotionally-invested people could easily spot. Scammers insidiously capitalize on this to convince grandparents to send them money in a variety of different ways. Unfortunately, the heart-wrenching result is always the same unless they’re able to realize they’ve been caught in a scam before it’s too late.

How does a grandparent scam work?

The way a grandparent scam usually starts is with a phone call. A scammer will call the number of a grandparent and pretend to be their grandchild. Maybe they’re supposedly in legal trouble overseas, or they’ve been injured and need money to cover medical coverage, but one way or another they’ll try their best to convince the grandparent that sending money is the only way they can help.

Of course, the means of sending that money will be something that makes it difficult to get back, like buying gift cards which can’t be returned, or wiring money through services like western union. However, before you or someone you love is suddenly caught in the grip of one of these emotionally-manipulative schemes, it’s important to understand their telltale signs, so scammers can’t use your compassion towards a loved one to steal your money.

An emotional situation: the telltale signs and tactics

One noticeable sign of this scam is the voice of the scammer and their conduct over the phone. Regardless of who a scammer is pretending to be, they often become argumentative or pushy over the phone. For instance, because their unwitting victim is reluctant to wire them the $9,000 they need in the next two days for some surprise legal fees.

Scammers often employ “pressure tactics” in order to exert control over their targets. These often involve intimidation, creating a sense of urgency, or eliciting an emotional response, like fear or sympathy. Anyone who discourages a person from stopping and thinking rationally in a situation where money is involved clearly does not have their best interest in mind. In such circumstances, the likelihood is high that the conversation is actually some kind of scam. Scammers are reliant on the fear and desperation of victims to override their ability to think rationally about the situation.

Scammers also hope this covers for the sound of their voice. In many circumstances, a scammer won’t know what the grandchild sounds like, and therefore they’ll sound nothing like them, often offering a quick excuse to cover up that obvious discrepancy. Grandparents are often so moved by the plight of their supposed grandchild, they’ll ignore how different they sound, purely motivated by their willingness to help. However, A.I. voice-cloning technology is complicating this telltale sign by allowing scammers to communicate by replicating the grandchild’s voice, picking clips from Tiktok or Instagram. What’s most concerning about A.I. use in scamming scenarios is how quickly the technology advances, only making it more difficult to detect in stressful situations

How can you protect yourself?

Above all else, the best protection from scams is being prepared, and the best preparation comes from ensuring yourself and your loved ones are aware of scams. Discussing what scamming situations look like can be an important tool to avoid them. Scam avoidance starts with education, so making sure your family members and other important people in your life understand how scams work, and how scammers operate, they may be able to recognize one before things get out of hand.

Set up a family code word. If you and your family can come up with a word only shared amongst yourselves, you can use it to verify the identity of a loved one if you’re unsure the caller on the other end is who they say they are. This word could be anything, but if a person claiming to be your loved one doesn’t know your shared family code word, it’s safe to say they’re a potential scammer.

Another good practice to avoid this kind of scam is by hanging up with the caller claiming to be a grandchild or other family member, and calling that loved one for real. If they answer and don’t seem to be in the situation the scammer described, then you’ve safely prevented yourself from being caught in an insidious scam.

If you’re finding yourself on the phone with a grandchild or any other family member claiming to be in trouble, or desperately requesting money from you, the most important thing you can do is stay calm. Scammers are aware of the vulnerability that love can create, and if you can avoid getting swept up in your emotions before you know all the facts, then you’ll be able to think clearly, foiling the scam.

Just when you thought scammers couldn’t sink lower

For most people, the idea that people are even capable of taking advantage of the love between grandparents and grandchildren is just unspeakable, but unfortunately scammers are never afraid to sink lower if it means separating vulnerable people from their hard-earned money.

If you think you’ve been the victim of a grandparent scam, it’s important to contact your bank immediately. If any money was transferred, they might be able to stop the transaction or freeze your account to prevent more money from being taken. Another helpful action to take is reporting the crime to law enforcement, and filing a report with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

Empower yourself

The best defense against falling victim to a scam is educating yourself on the tactics and schemes that scammers use; and that is where DART can help. The DART Collective, is a group of researchers, security experts, game designers, and community-based organizations who have come together, combining their skills to develop the Deception Awareness and Resilience Training (DART) platform. This platform is designed to educate older adults, empowering them to protect themselves from scams.

Awareness can be fun

Of the many strategies DART has to protect people from scammers, a particularly useful and interactive one is our mobile game; DeepCover. Deepcover immerses players in an interactive world of espionage through real-life deception scenarios, helping them become familiar with the language and tactics of scammers while they play. DeepCover is a fun way to encourage critical thinking while giving people the awareness they need to avoid becoming the victim of a scam.

Whether you are looking to educate yourself or would like to learn about opportunities to volunteer or partner in DART’s mission contact us.