'Grandparent Scams' Are Conning Thousands of Seniors Out of Cash

Grandparent scam

Across the country, law enforcement officials are warning seniors to beware of so-called "grandparent scams," in which fraudsters are impersonating a grandchild in distress -- and begging for cash.

Such scams have become increasingly common. In 2009, the Federal Trade Commission recorded 743 incidences of scammers impersonating a family member or friend in need of money. Since 2010, the FTC has recorded more than 40,000 and it is estimated that many more go unreported.

Ann and John Mykietyn never imagined they could be duped out of thousands of dollars. But then, last fall, they got a call from someone claiming to be their grandson, Daniel, that threw them into two days of panic.

He told them he had been in a car accident while at a bachelor party in Mexico and needed $1,800 to get out of jail. The next day, he called back frantic that his wallet had been stolen and he needed $2,400 to get a new passport.

Anxious to help their grandson return home, they sent two MoneyGram cash transfers to Mexico. They even sent a third after a man called claiming one of the transfers had been rejected. But when they never heard back, they realized that the caller hadn't been their grandson after all. The New Jersey residents had lost nearly $7,000 to a scammer.

"You get angry at yourself for being so foolish, but you're in a panic mode," Ann Mykietyn said. "You don't want any harm to your grandchild. "

They filed a report with local police, but their cash was already long gone. Police told them there is little chance their money will be recovered.

Warnings about grandparent scams have been issued by law enforcement and Better Business Bureaus across the country in recent months.

"It's everywhere. It's an epidemic," said Jean Mathisen, manager of the AARP's Fraud Fighter call center, which has fielded hundreds of calls about grandparent scams so far this year.

While law enforcement officials have been cracking down on grandparent scammers operating out of boiler rooms in Canada, new criminals continue to pop up, said Steven Baker, director for the FTC's Midwest Region.

Exactly how much has been lost to these scammers is unknown, but it's estimated to be in the tens of millions of dollars or more. One Michigan couple lost $33,000 of their life savings when a man pretending to be their grandson called, asking for cash to help him pay a fine and post bond to get him out of a Canadian jail.

The typical M.O.: "Grandma (or grandpa), are you there?" a caller will say, prompting the senior to reveal a name or other identifying information. The caller then says they were in a car accident, mugged or incarcerated in a foreign country -- all emergencies prompting an urgent need for cash.

Typically, the caller begs for secrecy, in order to prevent a quick phone call to the grandchild's parents to verify the story. When asked why their voice sounds funny, they'll usually claim their nose or mouth is injured. Once a victim wires money, more calls may follow, employing other callers who pose as attorneys, bail bondsmen or doctors.

Security officials at money transfer services, Western Union and MoneyGram, say they work with law enforcement whenever possible.

Western Union's transfer forms specifically warn senders not to send money for an unconfirmed emergency related to a grandchild or other family member. The company also trains employees to look for warning signs and gives them the authority to refuse transactions that they believe are fraudulent.

MoneyGram also has a fraud warning on transfer forms and says it can put holds on transfers that raise red flags. Because once a transaction goes through, "it's picked up in minutes and it's gone," said Kim Garner, senior vice president of Global Securities and Investigations.

Scammers are getting more sophisticated, however. In some cases, police suspect con artists are using online obituaries and social networking sites to profile their victims.

In the Mykietyn's case, the caller somehow knew to call John Mykietyn "Gramps," when he answered the phone. It was the detail that hooked him, he says.

"The other grandchildren call me Grandpa," he said.

Tips to Protect Against Grandparent Scams
  • Be suspicious of anyone who calls unexpectedly asking for cash.
  • Verify any supposed emergency, by calling friends and family, before wiring money.
  • Develop a secret code or "password" with family members that can be used to verify a true emergency.
  • Limit personal information, such as vacation plans, shared on social media sites.
For more tips, visit the Better Business Bureau's Scam Stopper site. To report a scam, contact the Better Business Bureau or the FTC.

More from CNNMoney:

Preventing and Reporting Senior Scams

Increase your money and finance knowledge from home

Understanding Credit Scores

Credit scores matter -- learn how to improve your score.

View Course »

How to Avoid Financial Scams

Avoid getting duped by financial scams.

View Course »

Add a Comment

*0 / 3000 Character Maximum


Filter by:

They should be in a home poor things.

May 26 2013 at 7:13 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

Too dumb both you and anyone who falls for this one. 40,000? I seriously doubt it. Why wouldn't you just call back the number that called you or call your grandchild directly? Come on give me a break.

May 25 2013 at 11:14 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply


May 24 2013 at 11:07 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Just curious but are there any adults left on these threads that can post a common sense answer, suggestion or experience? Reading childish garbage totally unrelated to the story posted by uneducated children or "adults" that can't let politics go or can't stop insulting each other is getting really old!

May 24 2013 at 8:41 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Even my own party is starting to take a good look at all my lies I have been telling the American people.

May 24 2013 at 5:24 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to obamasacrybaby's comment

Obamasaliar too

May 24 2013 at 10:50 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Grandparents without voice-recognition capabilities and not following up with other relatives to ID the person requesting money is a failing leading to victimization. Gather ye family round whilst ye may .

May 24 2013 at 3:15 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Big John

Let me give you the seniors scam of the century. You work for forty five years paying your taxes and paying into social security and your 401K or IRA. Then just about the time you want to retire the bottom falls out and you get swindled out of your savings and the party who caused the meltdown wants to cut your social security and medicare or raise the age so you never get it. Then they give money to the corporations for free who swindled you and you cannot make any interest on the savings you have left. That is far more damaging then a few getting cheated in this article.

May 24 2013 at 2:36 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Big John's comment

Obama? Right!

May 24 2013 at 2:46 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to jdykbpl45's comment
Big John


May 24 2013 at 7:27 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down

I had one of these calls just last week. I had known about them. I hung up after a few min and then called my daughter-in-law to confirm where my grandson was. He was not in NYC but at home just as I was sure he was to be found.

May 24 2013 at 2:19 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

Someone tried it with my mother-in-law and boy did they get an earful.

My son was already in trouble and when she heard "him" say that he needed money, she let "him" have it.

May 24 2013 at 12:32 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

Skagit River Bridge Collapse: Interstate 5 Span In Washington State Falls Into The Water

This bridge was built in 1955 when our infrastructure in the United States was rated number one in the world. Now our infrastructure is rated 15th in the world. Meanwhile back in Iraq the infrastructure rebuilding is going good due to U.S.bombing the hell out of the country.

May 24 2013 at 11:52 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply