The Grandparent / Emergency Scam

The grandparent scam is a common type of phone scam that targets older individuals, where scammers impersonate the victim’s grandchild or another family member in distress and in need of money. They may also pose as a law enforcement official claiming that their grandchild has been arrested or is in trouble and needs immediate financial assistance.

The scammers often use a sense of urgency and emotional appeal to convince the victim to wire money or send gift cards to cover the legal fees or fines the “family member” is faced with.

The “grandparent” or “emergency” scam begins after the victim receives a call from a person posing as their grandchild or another family member. “The caller may say, Grandma or Grandpa, it’s me…” What they rely on is that you identify who they are such as saying “Jane, is that you?” They will reply “Yes grandpa it’s me, Jane.” If you say that it doesn’t sound like you. “Jane” may reply that she had an accident and hurt her mouth which is why she sounds different.  “Jane” will go on to tell you that they have been arrested and need bail money or that they have been in an accident and need financial help, or that they are traveling and have gotten into some sort of trouble and can’t get home and needs financial help.

They may present you with any sort of emergency situation where time is of the essence and they need the funds right away or the situation will get worse.

“Jane” may even have an accomplice who will pose as a “police officer” or “lawyer” who will speak to you over the phone and advise of the severity of the situation, the funds required to resolve the matter, and the manner in which to transfer the funds. This tactic makes the entire situation even more believable and it is easy to get caught up and anxious in wanting to help your beloved relative in any way you can.

“Jane” will ask you to keep the call private and not alert other family members about the fake situation out of embarrassment or not wanting to alarm anyone else.

Regardless of the request to keep this situation private, and even if you feel fairly certain of the caller’s identity, one of the most important things to do is to ALWAYS double-check with family members BEFORE sending any money to anyone in a situation like this. Once the money is sent, it is too late and nearly impossible to track and you could be out thousands of dollars.

In some situations, they may even arrange for someone to come to your house to pick up the money.

Please note that the police or the courts will never ask you to send money through a courier, by way of gift cards, bitcoin, or Western Union, nor will they come and pick it up.  This is a scam!

If you receive a call that one of your family members is in trouble and needs bail money, please contact the police and NEVER provide personal information over the telephone, text, or email.

Here is a video from the Toronto Police Service showing how the scam is accomplished.


To prevent falling victim to the grandparent scam, it’s important to be aware of the following tips:

  1. Verify the caller’s identity: If you receive a call from someone claiming to be a grandchild or another family member, ask them to identify themselves. Don’t offer any information or even say their name until you’re sure of who you’re talking to. Make them tell you their name.
  2. If they claim to be a grandchild, ask them a personal question that only they would know the answer to, such as their birthday or a favourite hobby. You can also call your grandchild’s parents or other family members to confirm the story.
  3. Hang up and call back: If you receive a suspicious call, hang up and call your grandchild or their family directly using a phone number you know belongs to them – not the one provided by the scammer. This can help you confirm the story and avoid falling victim to a scam.
  4. If the caller claims to be a law enforcement official, hang up and call your local police directly, using a phone number from a reputable source – not one provided by the suspected scammer.
  5. If someone claiming to be your grandchild asks for money to be sent urgently, consider this a red flag. Scammers often use a sense of urgency to pressure their victims into sending money quickly. Be skeptical of any requests that require immediate action.  Listen to that inner voice that is screaming at you “This doesn’t sound right”.
  6. Don’t send money or gift cards: If the caller asks for money or gift cards, don’t send anything until you can verify their identity. Scammers often use high-pressure tactics to get victims to act quickly.
  7. Check with other family members: If the caller claims to be in trouble, contact other family members to confirm the story before sending any money. Don’t rely on the caller’s word alone.
  8. In these circumstances, never send cash or wire transfers: Scammers often ask for money to be sent through wire transfer services, such as Western Union or MoneyGram. These types of transfers are difficult to trace and can be irreversible, making it easy for scammers to disappear with the money.
  9. It is important to know the Canadian Criminal Justice System does not allow for someone to be bailed out of jail with cash or cryptocurrency.
  10. Don’t give out personal information: Scammers may ask for personal information such as your Social Insurance number or credit card information. Don’t give out this information over the phone.
  11. Be careful what you post online. Scammers can get details that you shared on social media platforms and dating sites to target you or get names and details about your loved ones.  Adjust your privacy settings to limit the amount of personal information that is publicly available.
  12. Don’t trust caller ID names and numbers. Scammers use technology to disguise the actual number they are calling from and can make it appear as a trusted phone number, such as your local police service or another government agency. This is also known as spoofing.
  13. Report suspicious activity: If you suspect that you’ve been targeted by the grandparent scam, report the incident to your local police service and the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.
  14. Stay up to date on current scams: Keep up with the latest scams and frauds by regularly reading publications from the organizations such as the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre – Scams:

By following these tips and remaining vigilant, you can protect yourself and your loved ones from falling victim to the grandparent scam.