Staying connected helps seniors avoid ‘grandkid’ scam

Contributing writerNovember 2, 2013 

I was working in the garden when the phone rang.

Actually, I don’t have a garden here in Condoville. What I have is three planters full of artificial blossoms that I change seasonally. I’m about three seasons behind right now. Every once in awhile, for a natural look, I pour a little tea or au jus mix over a few of the fake flowers. Then I put them on the cement and stomp on them judiciously for quite a while. This is a great stress reliever and the blossom then has a nice natural look of slowly dying, appropriate to this time of the year.

I surveyed my faux garden with satisfaction and caught the call on the third ring. It was my day for dealing with fakes.

“Hi, Grandma,” a young man’s cheerful voice said when I picked up the phone.

There may be a grandma or grandpa somewhere who would not be thrilled to think they were receiving an unexpected call from a loved adult grandchild but none of them is me.

“I was wondering what you’re up to,” my caller said. It took only a few seconds to realize that this was not my grandson; something not quite right about his voice maybe. Something was wrong.

Strike one! I thought.

“Where are you right now,” I asked.

“Las Vegas,” he said.

“Las Vegas?” I repeated. Strike two!

“No, you’re not!” I said, knowing that my grandson was at his job as manager of a local restaurant.

“What’s your name?” I asked. He hesitated. Clearly he didn’t know what his name was supposed to be.

“Cliff?” he guessed.

Strike three!

“Well that’s appropriate,” I fumed, “because if you ever call again, I’ll find a cliff to throw you off! Shame on you! Trying to scare old people!”

I cried incoherently and hung up. I realized it was the first time I’d ever admitted to being an old person.

Of course, the caller wasn’t really my grandson. I was lucky enough to be the target of an inept criminal. The National Council on Aging says that fraud against senior citizens has become so common as to be considered the Crime of the 21st Century.

The “Hi, Grandma” call is a widespread fraud tailored to prey on the elderly. Much as I hate to admit it, I’m exactly the target market. The next step would have been for my “grandchild” to tell me that he was in trouble, had been robbed, or was in jail and needed a few hundred — or a few thousand — dollars.

He’d beg me to keep it quiet. “Don’t tell Mom or Dad. You know they’d kill me.” Often the grandparent/victim will “help” and not say a word, to anyone.

Because I was aware of this scam, it didn’t take long to spot the fake. The FBI website on scams — scams-safety/fraud/seniors — says many people raised in the 1930s and ’40s find it difficult to just say no and hang up.

Grandparents today are often widely separated from their families. With Facebook and texting being the preferred forms of communication, they may not be able to recognize grandchildren’s voices at once.

Seniors often don’t know right away they’ve been scammed and may never know at all. They are sometimes afraid to tell anyone because they fear it shows that they’re losing control.

The Grandparent Scam is number 10 on the list the National Council on Aging prepares of the 10 most common frauds aimed at seniors. ( Search for “fraud)

This was all pretty scary. Luckily, there are still some universal truths to depend on. For instance, if you sit on your glasses twice in one day, as I just did, you’re likely to have trouble seeing. If you don’t share information about dangerous people and senior fraud with friends and family, you won’t be able to see scammers coming. Best thing is to spend as much time as possible, on the phone and in person, with our real family and friends to be sure to recognize their voices.

In this bright new smartphone era, we need more than ever to reach out and touch someone dear to us.

Dorothy Wilhelm is a professional speaker and author of “No Assembly Required.” Contact her at P.O. Box 881, DuPont, WA 98327, 800-548-9264 or Website:

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