Key takeaways:

  • Grandparent scams are on the rise throughout Canada, and it is important to know the signs to avoid fraud.
  • Grandparent scams target older adults with emotional stories from loved ones.
  • Fraudsters will arrange for the money to be picked up from your home or wired directly from your bank.
  • Scammers will pose as grandchildren, police officials and lawyers.
  • Other popular scams include romance scams and fake internet shopping ads.
  • Report scams to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC) and file a police report.

In this article:

More and more we hear about seniors receiving a call from someone who says they’re the grandchild and need help. Maybe they claim they’d been in an accident or they’re in trouble with law enforcement and they need money immediately.  

Does this sound familiar? You may have been a target in a grandparent scam, a popular version of the emergency scam. According to Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC), emergency scams were named one of the top 10 frauds reported in 2021 by seniors. 

With these scams on the rise, here are some tips to make it easy to spot grandparent scams.

What is a grandparent scam?

A grandparent scam is a type of fraud that specifically targets older adults. It typically involves a fraudster calling and pretending to be a grandchild or another family member in a desperate situation. This is how it might sound:

  • The call will often start with “Do you know who this is?” to get the name of a grandchild, assume their identity and gain credibility with you. 
  • The caller will claim to have an urgent need for money, such as for medical bills, bail or travel expenses. They’ll say they were in an accident, under arrest, or in jail in a city or abroad. 
  • To make their story sound more credible, they may put someone else on the phone to impersonate a police officer, government official or a lawyer. Scammers often rely on emotional and manipulative tactics to convince you to send them money without double-checking if the story is true.
  • The caller will ask you to withdraw funds from your bank account and send the money through a wire transfer service. In some cases, the scammers may also arrange for someone to impersonate a courier or a government official to collect the money from your home. 

How to protect yourself from the grandparent scam

Scammers are well rehearsed. They will stress urgency and rush you to act before thinking it through. Here are some best practices to keep in mind and stay one step ahead of the fraudsters:

  • Never answer calls from numbers you do not recognize. Caller IDs can also be manipulated by scammers. Verify their identity by directly calling the number known to you. 
  • Never offer personal or banking information. If you are asked over the phone “Do you know who this is?”, simply say no. The scammer may already know some basic information about your family. Social media makes information easy to find and available to anyone. Fraudsters are experts at weaving together facts to make their phone call seem legitimate. Be careful of what you post publicly to prevent them from using information against you. 
  • Ask for details. Ask them for their location and details of what’s transpired. Scammers have a hard time recalling details on the spot. 
  • Verify the caller. If it was a grandchild on the phone, they should be able answer questions that only they would know. One way is to ask them about fictitious personal events to avoid giving the caller more information. Speak with your loved ones about establishing a safe phrase they'd use if they ever call because they're in trouble. You can also hang up and verify the story by contacting their parents or other relatives even though you’ve been told your call was confidential. 
  • Never wire money or send an e-transfer to someone under uncertain conditions.
  • Never pay with a gift card. An established business or government agency won’t ever insist you pay them in this method.
  • Don’t provide your credit card number over the phone or internet unless you are sure about who you’re giving it to.

If you do answer one of these calls, the scammer is going to use every method of manipulation possible to get you to send money. Don't try to have a logical conversation with the scammer because they're trained to escalate emotions and pressure to make you act fast and think illogically. The best thing you can do is to hang up the phone and contact a trusted family member to find out the truth.

How to tell when a family member is being scammed

When a loved one is being scammed it isn't always obvious. Often times, the scammer will trick their target into being secretive and make them afraid to tell others. If you see these signs, your family member may be the victim of a scam:

  • They're acting secretively with financial information or call records.
  • They appear stressed or make rash requests, like visiting the bank right away.
  • A large sum of money goes missing from their account.

If you notice these signs, prioritize talking with your loved one right away. Let them know about grandparent scams and make sure they understand you're not mad but you need the complete story to file a report. Sometimes they'll deny the actions of a scammer because being a victim of fraud can be embarrassing.

It's also important to report fraud and protect financial accounts as soon as possible. Report the fraud to both the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre and your local police services. If you have control of a loved one's financial accounts, notify the bank and freeze their accounts. If you don't have these rights, help them report the scam to their financial institution.

Have you been scammed?