Beware the grandparent scam

“Con man” is an old term used to describe people who attempt to separate others from their money by means of deception. The word “con” refers to a person who accomplishes their task by gaining the confidence of their victim. The first use of the term was in an 1849 New York Herald article. The first con game, however, probably goes back to pre-history.

A confidence game is also known as a con, scam, grift, or flimflam. O. Henry published The Gentle Grafter in 1904, a collection of short stories that described some con games of that era. Some of the same scams are still used today. Henry told his stories usually with a sympathetic view for the con man, but rarely, if ever, how the con affected the victim. Victims of a con, called marks, rarely recoup their loss.

An attempt at a flimflam happened recently to Blountsville residents O.K. and Betty Alexander. The grift has a name, the grandparent scam, and the attempt to take the Alexanders’ money was classic.

A woman called and O.K. answered the telephone. The female caller asked, “Do you know who this is?” He thought it might be his granddaughter, Hanna, who lives in Seattle. At some point, Betty was on the phone as “Hanna” explained she had been arrested for DUI after an automobile accident.

Very quickly, “Hanna’s” so-called court appointed attorney took over the conversation and explained that if “Hanna” was able to pay $6,000 in cash, she could avoid a criminal record. The “attorney” insisted the money had to be in cash and even offered to have someone come to Alabama to collect the money. The “attorney” identified himself as a member of a large law firm with offices in several cities. The firm does exist. The “attorney” also sprinkled the conversation with some of the normal things a real DUI defendant might have to do including mandatory attendance to driving school. This is typical of a con job, giving a little bit of truth to make the whole scenario seem plausible.

On this particular day, though, the would-be con artists met their match in the Alexanders, who were suspicious. They did some checking, called an attorney, and discovered the whole thing was bogus. They did not lose a dime and reported the incident to the Blount County District Attorney’s Office, the Alabama Attorney General’s Office and eventually, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, the federal agency that tracks such scams.

The Alexanders did exactly what one should do when faced with something that is extraordinary, especially if it requires a cash payment. Stop, ask questions, verify the information, and if it does not feel right, notify law enforcement. Alerts about recent scams can be found on the FTC’s website at https://

Despite O. Henry’s efforts, not to mention the characters portrayed by Paul Newman and Robert Redford in The Sting movie, con artists are neither sympathetic nor glamorous. In the end, they are simply thieves.