The Grandparent Scam: 5 Helpful tips to tell Fraud From family

What is the Grandparent Scam?

The Grandparent Scam, or the ‘Emergency Scam’ is a call, text, and/or email fraud scheme that targets seniors. The Fraudster contacts a senior impersonating a family member (usually a grandchild) and fabricates a story about being in legal trouble, having a medical emergency, or being in an emergency situation and urgently needing financial assistance. Scammers also impersonate authority figures such as police officers, lawyers, or judges pretending to be with your ‘family member’ who needs your help.

How does the grandparent scam work?

The scammers claim to need money urgently to deal with an emergency situation such as a car accident, medical emergency, or bail money. They will sometimes put a ‘police officer’ or other ‘authority figure’ on the phone, or have them call shortly after the initial call with the ‘family member’ ends. The scammer exploits the victim’s love for their family members and uses fear and urgency to coerce them into sending payment, usually through untraceable methods like wire transfers or gift cards.

how to spot and stop the grandparent scam

Scam red flags

  • Urgent deadlines to pay or respond
  • Fearmongering with threats
  • Request for wire transfer(s) or gift cards
  • Requests for secrecy, ‘court gag orders’, etc.


  • Do NOT trust your call display/caller ID on your landline or cellular phone. Scammers can impersonate any organization and can appear to be from the police, government, a hospital, etc.
  • Never give or verify information to the caller even if they know some personal details (name, number, address, bank info.) Scammers can easily find this information and use it to trick you into believing they are family.
  • Don’t ask questions in order to verify the caller’s story or identity. Scammers will have done their research and may know much more about you and your family than you suspect.
  • Never wire money in uncertain conditions. It is nearly impossible to recover or trace wired funds.
  • Hang up! Scammers are relying on you acting quickly out of fear. Do your best to pause and remain calm.

If you think the call might be legitimate, contact family members using a verified number or contact method, contact a trusted friend to discuss, or call 211 (in Ontario) if you need assistance.

Help Spread the Word

Spread the word! Use our Grandparent Scam poster as a reminder of how the scam works and to call 211 in Ontario for support. Speak to the seniors in your life so they are prepared if they receive an alarming call about their grandchild or family member. Save, print, share, and help protect seniors in your community.

The Grandparent Scam

The Grandparent Scam is An underreported crime

In fact, police believe that only 5-10% of these cases are being reported

The scam is estimated to be responsible for 9.2 million dollars in losses in 2022 (The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre) but most cases are not reported due to:

  • Victim’s feeling too embarrassed to come forward
  • Scammers threatening victims with ‘gag orders’ or requesting secrecy while impersonating their family members

The KnowledgeFlow Grandparent scam tip sheet

This tip sheet highlights the typical signs of the Grandparent Scam: a scam so common that has its own nickname.

the grandparent scam tip sheet