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Foiling Grandparent Scams: How Vigilance and Communication Saved a Family

Grandparent scams are malicious fraud tactics that exploit the love, trust, and vulnerability of grandparents. Scammers impersonate grandchildren in distress, often claiming to be in urgent need of financial assistance due to emergencies or legal troubles. Leveraging emotional manipulation, these fraudsters prey on the goodwill and concern of grandparents, pressuring them to send money or disclose sensitive personal information. In this blog post, we delve into the increasing complexity and severity of grandparent scams by recounting a harrowing tale of how a family’s preparedness and quick thinking protected their grandfather from falling victim to a cunning scheme involving his grandson, Jessie.

The Power of Communication and Preparedness

In December 2022, during a traditional get-together, one New York family discussed the growing incidents of grandparent scams and how they might react if encountering such a scheme. They decided to take a very proactive approach. Recognizing the need for a protective measure, they collectively decided to establish a unique code word. This code word would serve as a crucial verification method during distressing situations, allowing them to distinguish between genuine emergencies and fraudulent calls.

A Calculated Manipulation Attempt

Six months after establishing the code word, the family faced a chilling grandparent scam scenario. The unsuspecting grandfather received a call from individuals claiming to have kidnaped his beloved grandson, Jessie, who was on a two-week trip to Brazil with one of his best friends. The scammers appeared well-armed with knowledge about Jessie’s travel plans. Jessie’s friend posted details several times before the trip, including a photo of the two standing in front of the departure gate, clearly identifying the flight number.

A Race Against Time

The scammers realized Jessie would not be able to receive any telephone calls during the flight, making it impossible for his grandfather to establish contact directly. Exploiting this approximate 10-hour window of opportunity, the scammers first called Jessie’s number using a burner phone. As Jessie’s telephone was already turned off, they obtained a sample of the voice from Jessie’s voice message.

Next, they then telephoned the grandfather. They explained that they were members of a criminal gang in Rio who had kidnapped Jessie. They demanded an exorbitant ransom of $10,000 to be paid in Bitcoin, threatening to kill him if their demands were not met within two hours. Exploiting the previously collected voice sample, they used voice cloning technology to impersonate Jessie, mimicking his exact voice and emotions, adding a chilling sense of realism to their manipulative tactics.

The Code Word as a Lifeline

Despite the overwhelming panic, the grandfather managed to maintain his composure. Recalling the family’s earlier discussions and the importance of the code word, he insisted on using it to verify the authenticity of the call. When the scammers failed to provide the code word, their desperate pleas intensified, attempting to divert the conversation away from the established safeguard.

A Call for Help

Unfazed by the scammers’ relentless pressure, the grandfather attempted to call Jessie. As the call only went to voicemail, the grandfather then reached out to Jessie’s father. Through their combined efforts, they discovered that Jessie was safe and still on the flight, rendering the alleged kidnapping completely fabricated.

Strength in Unity

The family’s unwavering resolve, commitment to open communication, and the establishment of the code word proved to be their lifeline in this distressing ordeal. By staying connected and sharing vital information, they effectively dismantled the scam and prevented the loss of $10,000, sparing their grandfather from immeasurable emotional and financial devastation.

Spreading Awareness and Protecting Our Loved Ones

The story of this family serves as a powerful reminder of the severity of grandparent scams and the importance of educating ourselves and our loved ones about these fraudulent tactics. By sharing this account, we aim to raise awareness about the evolving nature of grandparent scams and inspire families to prioritize discussions, establish safeguards, and remain vigilant against these heartless schemes.

If you want to learn more about protecting yourself and your loved ones from grandparent scams, the book "Why Are You Messing With Me: Senior Survival Guide on Fraud, Privacy, and Security" is an insightful guide that provides invaluable information and practical tips to safeguard against malicious fraud tactics. Don't wait until it's too late. Arm yourself with knowledge, empower yourself against scammers, and take a proactive stand against fraud, privacy breaches, and security threats. Together, we can create a safer world for our seniors.


About the Counterintelligence Institute

Founded by former CIA senior intelligence officer Peter Warmka, the Counterintelligence Institute’s mission is to assist your corporations, government offices, academic institutions and non-profit organizations in protecting your sensitive information and personal data records against security breach attempts. Our online and onsite training services focus on transforming the human factor from being the weakest link in security to becoming the most effective defensive tool against security threats against your company and personal life.



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