So, let’s set the scene. You’re just about to hop into bed to watch “Seinfeld” reruns when the phone rings.
“Grandma, it’s Robby. Grandma, I’m in trouble and I don’t want Mom and Dad to find out. I got into a wreck and messed up the car, this other lady’s car and, well, I’m also charged with drinking and driving.”
“Are you hurt?”
“No, but I’m in trouble.”
So, it begins. The “Grandma” scam begins with a desperate plea from the grandchild for help, but with the promise that Mom and Dad won’t find out. This scam is popular, in part due to the emotional connection between grandparent and grandchildren.
Here’s an example. I have the grandkids for the weekend. My daughter calls, via Facetime, to check on the kids. We’re fine. “I hate sugar, so don’t let the kids have anything with sugar in it.”
As she’s talking to the kids, I’m careful to position the phone as not to show the Dairy Queen sign next to our table where the kids are hitting the banana splits with much vigor.
Grandparents do that. We cut our grandkids slack. We love them. It’s because of this love for our children’s children that we can be vulnerable to rationalizing situations that would normally send up a red flare of caution.
Every scam has a tipping point triggering an internal signal alerting one to tread carefully. Unfortunately, that emotional connection to our family, especially grandchildren, can easily override common sense if you don’t take a step back, take some time and think. If your neighbor made the same call, chances are you’d begin thinking about it with a dash of common sense, but since it’s your grandson, your emotions overflow and you put on blinders.
By the way, how did they get Robby’s name correct? It isn’t hard. Facebook, Instagram and a dozen other social media sites provide enough public information that a scammer can look up family members. The scammer might have inside information, but how they get that name isn’t as important as how they deliver the hook. The hook is where you decide to go along.
Robby tells you his lawyer or other adult person is on the line with him and can “fix” this problem with some funds sent quickly wired via Western Union or by a pre-paid debit card.
Remember when I said there was a tipping point? This is it. Any request for a pre-paid card or wired money should immediately set you into motion on what you should do.
What should you do next? Simple. Do not assume and begin asking questions. The fastest way to defeat a scam is to, by default, be skeptical, and then begin asking questions.
Tell Robby that before you can send money, he needs to verify his birth date, home address, and just for laughs, insert a trick question like: “What is your girlfriend Joan’s last name?” Or, tell him that this problem is too big to keep a secret and it’s time for him to put on his big-boy pants and call Mom and Dad.
Many times, the scam involves Robby being out of the country on vacation, in Cancun, for instance. The adult person on the line is a Mexican official who represents the fact that Robby might be headed to Mexican jail if the money isn’t sent immediately. This is another big tipping point.
The last time you checked, Robby was in high school or college, and now he’s in Cancun? Call and verify.
Listen, we all want to be that cool grandparent, but don’t let your love for your grandkids blanket your common sense. If you receive a call resembling this scenario, remember the two responses that will save your hard-earned money. Ask questions and verify everything.