Let Inga Tell You: The Grandma Scam


The voice on the other end of the phone couldn’t have been more enthusiastic. “Hi grandma!” said a late teen-early 20-ish voice.

It definitely wasn’t one of my grandsons, the oldest of whom is seven.

“I’m sorry,” I said politely. “But I think you have the wrong number.” I was about to hang up when he says, “I knew you wouldn’t recognize my voice. I’m sick. In fact that’s why I’m calling.” He coughs for effect.

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And in a flash I knew: grandma scam! While it would have been tempting to just hang up, this suddenly seemed a lot more interesting than paying the property tax bill online, which I’d been doing at the time.

“So which grandson are you?” I say, deciding to play along.

“Geesh, grandma, you don’t know?”

“Timmy?” I say.

“Yes, Timmy,” he replies. “Here’s the problem. I went to Mexico for the weekend with some friends and got really sick. And now they won’t let me out of the hospital if I don’t pay the bill in cash. Mom and Dad didn’t know I was going and they would just kill me. (Pause.) You’ve always been my favorite grandma.”

Woo-hoo! This script was right out of the AARP Senior Scam Playbook. Now I was intrigued.

“So how much do you need?” I said.

“$2,000,” says my fake grandson Timmy. “I know it’s a lot of money, but I promise I’ll pay you back.” Another pause and a voice of contrition, “I’ve learned my lesson.”

“Are you sure they won’t take your medical insurance?” I inquire.

Timmy starts to sound a tad annoyed. “I already asked. Cash or nothing.” He decides to up the ante. “My friends are leaving this afternoon to drive back so if I can’t get out, they’ll leave me behind.” Upping the ante some more: “I’ve heard they put people in jail who can’t pay their bills down here.” Cranking up the ante to Defcon3: “I’m really scared.”

“Don’t worry, sweetie,” I say in best faux-caring grandma voice. “Just tell me how I get the money to you.”

If one could hear a happy dance across optical fiber, this would have been it. “Can you wire it to me via Western Union?” he gushes, that rasp in his voice temporarily gone. “Just go to It’s really easy. Have you got something to write with?” (Pause.) “You really are the best grandma ever.”

Oops! The property tax line is about to time me out. Don’t want to have to start all over again. As much fun as this has been, it’s time to wrap up TimmyGate.

“You know, Timmy,” I say, “You’ve never been my favorite grandson. In fact, I’ve never really liked you at all.” And I hung up.

Burning questions consumed me for the rest of the day after this phone call. The first being: how does anyone actually fall for this scam? There were dozens of specific questions I could have asked him that would have exposed him as a fake. I’ve read that the truly artful grandma scammers have done a little research, sometimes found out the names of the actual grandchildren, maybe even their birthdays, or their parents’ names. Maybe the family pet.

But this little dweeb hadn’t even bothered and was hoping to deflect questions with aspersions on grandma’s love for him. Get HER to come up with the right name. I have to say that as a grandma scammer, he wasn’t very good. My one shot at grandma scamdom and I get an amateur.

Further online research on the subject suggests that the reason the grandma scam works is that grandparents are desperate to hear from their deadbeat grandkids, regardless of the excuse. Saying “I love you” is the closer.

That people still fall for the much-publicized Nigerian scam is even more baffling. Have they been living under a rock? (Or have the brains of one?) A wealthy Nigerian prince/businessman sends total strangers an e-mail (I’ve received dozens) and wants to give them $10 million all for the minor inconvenience of letting the prince/businessman use your U.S. bank account to transfer some of his funds out of his war-torn country.

But my other burning question about “Timmy” was: how did he get my number? Is AARP selling us out? Is there a list of grandmas you can buy on the Internet at Or do they just cold call until they get a woman who sounds old? (I DO NOT SOUND OLD!)

I would have loved to have asked him before I hung up, “So Timmy, I’ll actually wire you $50 if you tell me how you got my number.” But he would never have told me. And I would never have sent the $50 anyway.

Look for La Jolla resident Inga’s lighthearted looks at life in La Jolla Light. Reach her at