Convicted Con Artist Explains How To Avoid Falling Victim To 'Grandparent Scam'

A man behind bars says he made upwards of $10,000 a day conning senior citizens.

Stating that he now feels remorse, he agreed to explain to CBS News how the "grandparent scam," as it's known among con artists, works in order to prevent future victims.

It starts with a call

The conman, who did not want to give his name, said the scam preys on the victim's weakness: their grandchildren. He and others involved in the scam would call the victim posing as their grandchild.

But it wasn't simply a call to chat; the convict said the scammers would tell their "grandparent" that they were in trouble and needed help.

He described a typical call to CBS:

"You just say, 'Hey, how are you, hi grandma, hi grandpa... I'm in a little bit of trouble right now. If I tell you, just keep it between us, I'm on vacation, but I got into a little accident, and I was arrested for a DUI.' You tell them, 'Things got out of control, and I need you to send me the money."

It worked on one in 50 calls.

"They're gullible"

The 31-year-old conman, who is waiting to be sentenced, said the scheme is run out of Canada, but targets those over 65 in the United States. Sitting in a boiler room, he'd make call after call until hitting the jackpot.

CBS asked him why the scam targeted senior citizens.

"We target people over the age of 65 mainly because they're gullible. They're at home. They're more accessible.

"Once you get them emotionally involved, then they'll do anything for you basically."

The scammer says he got names and phone numbers by buying lists online that provided an age and income.

One victim's story

An 81-year-old victim received a frantic call from her "grandson," who had been arrested for drunk driving.

"I felt there was a desperation and an urgency in his voice, partly because he said 'love you'."

She said he didn't sound like himself, but she chalked that up to a broken nose.

"I just wanted him to be home with his family. That's all I wanted."

So she sent $18,000 to what she thought was a lawyer's account. Instead, she fed right into the scammer's hands.

The grandmother told CBS later that she was "blinded by her emotions" when she got the call.

"You don't think rationally when this happens. You know, your family comes first."

The woman who prosecuted the con artist CBS interviewed, said that the effects of the scam go beyond money.

"They feel stupid, they fell gullible, and they have nightmares about it and anxiety and depression," Assistant U.S. Attorney Ellyn Lindsey said.

Victims rarely get their money back because the money is wired overseas.

Don't be the next victim

With the scammers working out of country, experts say it's difficult to catch these criminals. But the one who was caught had some advice for grandparents to keep from becoming the next victim:

If you do receive a call, ask the person on the other end something that only your grandchild would know. Then tell them that you are going to let someone else in the family--even while the "grandchild" begs you not to--and hang up and call their parent or the grandchild's phone number.