This scam starts with two preconceptions: first, that a grandparent will come to the aid of a grandchild in a time of crisis, and second, that most grandparents don’t live with their grandchildren, so they are not always aware of their whereabouts. The scam starts with a phone call from the scammer to the target. The target’s name and phone number can be easily obtained through public records. In some cases, the scammers might use social media to start their search and get preliminary information about targets and their grandchildren, including names. For this reason, it is important not to accept social media connections or friend requests from anyone that you don’t know. The amount of information that a scammer can obtain is limited when there is no connection.

In the simplest case, the scammer will obtain a target’s name and phone number from public records. They will look for names that were more popular during the years when today’s potential grandparent was born, such as Dorothy, Helen, Margaret, George, Edward, and Ronald. The scammers know that there is a higher chance that these names belong to those born in the 1920s and 1930s. According to the Social Security Administration, these six names were the some of the most popular names for girls and boys born in those two decades.

The scammer will begin with one of these names and start dialing. Here is an example  of an exchange  between a scammer and a caller, which is based on a real story:

Target: Hello. Scammer: Grandpa? Target: Randy?

Scammer: Yeah.

Target: What’s the matter?

Scammer:  I’ve been in a car wreck. Target: Are you okay?

Scammer: Yeah, but I need some money.

The scammer then instructed the target to send money to help resolve the situation. In this case the “situation” was a car accident, but there are many variations on this scam.

Another common story involves the grandchild having been arrested and in need of bail money. In any case, the scammer always instructs the target not to tell his or her parents and to only call back on the number the scammer is calling from because they lost their cell phone or because the battery is dead. Of course, if the target called their actual grandchild back on their known number, they would discover that their grandchild has not been in an accident or arrested, and that the whole thing is a scam.

Once more, emotion versus logic.

Emotion: A grandchild is hurt or in trouble. An emotional reaction to the set of circumstances that a scammer has put forth may cause the target to immediately take action. They may do what their grandchild says and ask questions later.

Logic and common sense: If a grandchild really needs your help, wouldn’t they want their parents involved as well? Wouldn’t the grandchild have their cell phone available for a call back? In any case, it always makes sense to verify the identity of a caller, even if it sounds like it might be a grandchild. Call them back at a number you know to be theirs and talk to them before sending any money.

In the Internet Age, it can be easy to get tricked online or on the phone by having a scammer manipulate our emotions. In examples described above, the scammer may have used the internet to identify victims or make robocalls. One of our best defenses against fraud is logic and common sense. When a situation involves providing information, money, or access to anyone, ask yourself, “Does this situation make sense?” It is especially important to do this when you have received the contact unsolicited (as opposed to initiating it yourself). Ask questions, take steps to determine the truthfulness of the claim, and don’t let emotions drive your behavior.