Grandma Gets Lucky by
(149 Stories)

Prompted By Hacks and Scams

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It was fortunate, in 2015 when I was working full time, that I was telecommuting that Wednesday. The call came in from my niece, then a graduate student at Duke, in a panic. “Aunt Marian, I think Grandma got scammed!”

"She called my cell phone and thought I'd gone to Canada and ended up in jail."

“Lizzie? Huh?”

“I just talked to Grandma. She called my cell phone and thought I’d gone to Canada and ended up in jail.”

“Whoa, back up, back up,” I said. Together we reconstructed what had happened.

My mother, then in her late 80s, is an intelligent person with natural skepticism, but she had fallen for the classic grandparent scam. Now fairly well known and described by AARP and others, this was the first I had heard of it.

A young woman had called, and with a clever script, got my mother to actually believe she was talking to Elizabeth, who was in trouble after traveling to Canada to go to a wedding. Never mind that she doesn’t have any friends in Canada, or that the logical thing would have been to call her father (my brother) if she really was in trouble. The acting was very convincing. Then, a man pretending to be a lawyer got on the phone and asked for $400 to be wired to bail Elizabeth out of a Montreal jail.

At her bank, my mother stood in line to get a money order. Even though it was mid-afternoon, the line moved very slowly, very typical of the bank in downtown Oakland. The imposter lawyer called back frequently to check progress. By the time my mother got the money and went to Western Union, it was after 4 PM. The scammer became more insistent and forceful, and my mother began to think something wasn’t really right. There was a long line at Western Union, which moved very slowly. Just after 5 PM, she wired the money and then thought to call my niece’s cell phone.

I got through to my mom and convinced her that the real Elizabeth was in North Carolina and what happened was indeed a scam. “What should I do?” she asked. The best thing was to try to cancel the wiring of the money, so she went back to Western Union. The people there indicated that they would try to cancel the transaction, but if the scammers picked up the money in Montreal, there was nothing they could do.

This is where my mother got lucky. The inefficiency and lines at the bank and Western Union saved her. Turned out that the Western Union in Montreal closed at 8 PM Eastern time, so the scammers couldn’t pick up the money, and the transaction was canceled. The next day, an Oakland detective visited my mom to take a statement, and said it was almost unheard of to recover the money. Alas, the scammers continue to pop up outside the US.

When we understood this scam, I got Elizabeth and my mother together to establish a “secret word” that my mother could ask Elizabeth to say to protect her from scammers. We haven’t had any trouble since!

Profile photo of Marian Marian
I have recently retired from a marketing and technical writing and editing career and am thoroughly enjoying writing for myself and others.


  1. Betsy Pfau says:

    This is a sad but all too often heard story these days. Your family was very fortunate to get the money back, and that it wasn’t a huge sum; in the thousands, as can be the case these days. You will read a comparable tale from me, but from some years ago, as my “victim” died three years ago, so my tale took place even earlier.

  2. Suzy says:

    Hmm, I recognize that picture. . . . This is a great story because it has a happy ending, which is pretty rare for these types of scams. Thank heavens for long lines at the bank and Western Union, and for time zones working in your favor! How did your mother get the money back? Did she have to stand in another long line at Western Union?

    • Marian says:

      Suzy, I thought the picture would work great and save time! Yes, my mother had to stand in line again to cancel the wire transaction, so it was like it never happened, but by then the Canada Western Union was already closed, so while the money arrived there, the scammers couldn’t pick it up, and then the cancellation took effect.

  3. Laurie Levy says:

    I remember this scam, Marian. It was especially cruel because it preyed on grandparents who would do anything to protect their grandkids. I never understood how they were able to get the actual name of someone’s grandchild. So glad your mother was able to recover her money but sad for the stress it must have caused for her.

    • Marian says:

      Yes, this is a terrible scam, Laurie. After this happened I read up on the scam, and what’s amazingly clever is the social engineering involved. The scammers don’t know the name of the grandchild. What they do is say “This is your granddaughter,” and then the grandparent supplies the name. Obviously there is a lot of randomness involved, and the gender needs to match, so they must make many calls a day!

  4. Yes Marian, I’ve heard about scammers who prey on the elderly, and many folks lose money, much more than the $400 your mother almost lost!
    Grandma did indeed get lucky!

    • Marian says:

      You are right, Dana. When I think back on it, I am surprised they asked for so little. I did read that once the grandparent sends the money, sometimes the scammers call back and say they need more.

  5. Heaven help us, what a sorry world at times!

  6. Oh Marian, reading all these stories is a little disheartening. It’s hard to be trusting when there are so many scammers out there. I hate being suspicious but am increasingly so. I remember when I first moved back to L.A. after being away for a decade, a woman with a child approached me in a parking lot and said her car had broken down, etc., etc. and I immediately gave her $20. I’m still moved by the homeless plight especially when it comes to women with children, but it turns out there’s often a healthy man waiting not far away. No one wants to be duped, in any way. It’s like being spit on for your good intentions.

    • Marian says:

      I agree, Barbara. The Jewish tradition encourages you to do something, that is, not ignore someone in need. So when I see people like you describe, I always am torn about what to do and feel bad if I don’t help them. However, my tradition doesn’t want me to be scammed, either.

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