Everything You Need To Know About The ‘Hey Grandma’ Scam

Recently, my very own grandma was nearly swindled out of a couple thousand dollars as part of the “Hey Grandma” scam. (Though, don’t let the name deceive you, because grandpas are targeted, too).

In a nutshell, scammers pose to be a grandchild or loved one, fake an emergency and then ask for money to be wired or sent. The script can scenarios can change up some.

Here’s what happened to my grandma: She received a call on her land line from a male caller posing as an attorney. The scammer told her that her grandson had been arrested and she needed to provide bail money. Her grandson, the caller said, was too embarrassed to call his parents, and she needed to keep this a secret.

So, like that, my grandma was on her way to the bank to withdraw $2,000 in cash, as she was instructed, and then purchase gift cards at drug stores to be sent to the scammer.

As she was leaving the bank, and by happenstance, she received a call from her actual grandson, asking her if she wanted to go out to dinner with the family that night. “Wait, I thought you were in trouble?” she asked.

Then, the scam unraveled. There were plenty of red flags—the caller never offered a name of her grandson, the caller asked for gift cards, the caller insisted she not tell any family members, etc.

Financial scams and fraud could be costing senior citizens as much as $36 billion per year, according to Consumer Reports. The “hey grandma” scam is just one of many, though. Other popular ones include investment schemes, sweepstakes and lottery scams and e-mail scams.

In an interview with CBS News, an admitted con artist gave details on how he scammed senior citizens. He started by purchasing their information online to garner details about them, including their financial bracket, age and family member information. He said about 1 in 50 people would fall for the scame.

“We target people over the age of 65, mainly, because they’re more gullible,” the 31-year-old criminal, who spoke on the condition that the station would name him, told CBS News. “They’re at home. They’re more accessible. Once you get them emotionally involved, then they’ll do anything for you.”

Here’s what you need to know about the ‘Hey Grandma’ scam, or the “Family Emergency Scam” as the Federal Trade Commission, or FTC, calls it.

1. Scammers pose as relatives or friends

When they call or send messages, they urge you to wire money immediately. They’ll say they need cash to help with an emergency, like getting out of jail, paying a hospital bill or needing to leave a foreign country, according to the FTC. “

Their goal is to trick you into sending money before you realize it’s a scam,” the FTC says.

In some cases, there will a partner in crime and the person posing to be your friend or relative will put an “attorney” on the line as well to make it sound more authentic.

2. You Should Verify the Alleged Emergency

Resist the urge to act immediately, no matter how dramatic the story is, according to the FTC. You should verify the person’s identity by asking questions that a stranger couldn’t possibly answer, the FTC urges.

In a column for AARP, a grandfather wrote about how a caller pretended to be his grandson Kenny and attempted to scam him.

“I had a momentary twinge, then asked, ‘Kenny, if that’s who you are, what’s your address in Los Angeles?’” The phone went dead,” Richard B. Stolley wrote in the column.

Photo by Arif Wahid on Unsplash

3. Call Your Family Members or Friends

Try calling the phone number for your family member or friend who has claimed to be in trouble. In my case, my grandma got lucky that her grandson called her in the midst of the scam.

Also, the FTC advises that you check the story out with someone else in your family or circle of friends, even if you were asked to keep it a secret.

Flickr | sk8geek
Flickr | sk8geek

4. Don’t wire money

The scam artist will likely try to get you to send or send a check or money order by overnight delivery or courier. Or, in my grandma’s situation, she was told to purchase Visa or American Express gift cards—presumably because it was a form of currency that wouldn’t be traceable.

Some stores have begun implementing policies requiring people to show an ID when they purchase gift cards, and capping the amount of money that can be placed on gift cards.

Flickr | 401(K) 2013
Flickr | 401(K) 2013

5. Report the possible fraud

You can do this online at or by calling 1-877-FTC-HELP.

Getty Images | William Thomas Cain

About the Author

Brittany Anas

Brittany has contributed to publications including Men's Journal, Forbes, Women's Health, American Way, TripSavvy, Eat This, Not That!, Apartment Therapy, Denver Life Magazine, 5280, Livability, The Denver Post, Simplemost, USA Today Travel Tips, Make it Better, AAA publications, Reader's Digest, Discover Life and more. More.

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