How to avoid being tricked by a familiar voice: 'Grandparent scams'


Posted: September 27, 2023 | Word Count: 591

You may have heard about older adults being tricked into sending money to someone they think is a grandchild or other relative in trouble and thought to yourself, "How could anyone fall for that?" But the truth is, today's advanced technology makes it easier than ever for scammers to trick their unsuspecting and well-meaning victims.

To protect yourself, it pays to understand how fraudsters work, what red flags to look for, and how to trust your instincts so you don't end up on the losing end of one of these vicious scams.

How grandparent scams work

Scammers prey on kind-hearted victims by convincing people their grandchild or other relative has had an accident or is in some kind of legal or financial trouble. The scammers then plead for money to get them out of the "jam."

For years, criminals have been able to gather facts and personal information from people's social media accounts to contact their older relatives. Once the criminals contact older relatives via text, email or phone, the criminals can sound very convincingly like a relative in dire trouble.

The A.I. twist

Because of advances in artificial intelligence (A.I.), criminals can now make their pleas for cash sound even more convincing when calling on the phone. According to the Federal Trade Commission, these scammers use A.I. voice cloning software to mimic your relative's voice by pulling the audio from their social media videos.

Unfortunately, scammers often couple this tactic with a "spoofed" phone number that shows up on your caller ID with your relative's name, so it looks like it's really them calling you.

How to spot red flags

Fortunately, there are ways to prevent criminals from stealing from you. The United States Postal Inspection Service® recommends a few simple steps to avoid being taken by this extremely vicious scam.

Watch out for these red flags:

  • Late-night calls. Scammers often call victims in the middle of the night, hoping to catch you when you're not fully awake and less likely to think clearly. If that happens to you, tell them you'll call them right back. You can then take the time to fully wake up, gather your wits and contact your grandchild or relative via the method you usually use to talk to them. Do not return the call you just received.
  • Urgent pleas for money. Be suspicious of any phone calls including requests for money, even if it sounds like someone you know. Scammers use fear to get you worried about your loved one, so you won't take the time to think things through. If someone asks for money right away, hang up. Contact your loved one the way you usually contact them, and/or check with other trusted family members first.
  • Requests for odd methods of payment. If you're asked to send money using methods like a mobile payment app, mailing cash, wiring money, sending gift cards or money orders, or other unusual payment methods, hang up. Once money is sent using these methods, there's no way to get it back. If you are asked to meet somewhere so you can give them cash in person, hang up and report the incident to law enforcement.

If you've been affected by crime that involves the U.S. Mail®, contact the United States Postal Inspection Service at 877-876-2455 or report it online at USPIS.gov/report. If you think you've been targeted by a grandparent scam, report it to the Federal Trade Commission at 888-225-5322, or visit ConsumerComplaints.FCC.gov.

Learn more about elder fraud at USPIS.gov.

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