A Badass Grandma Battles Holiday Gift-Card Scams in Epic PSA

Backing Google's Scam Spotter platform

A mysterious caller says the only way to free your granddaughter from a foreign jail, or pay thousands in back taxes, is to use a gift card. And they want your card info ... right now! You should...

  1. Share your card numbers and Pins immediately, because the calls are completely legit.
  2. Hang up this instant! Tell them nothing! It's a total scam! This is the correct answer!

Gift-card scams abound, with fraudsters working the phones to bilk unwitting Americans out of $430 million since 2018. Now, Google employs hyperbolic humor in epically over-the-top videos, reminding consumers to stay vigilant. (Spoiler alert: Grannie kicks ass!)

Scam Spotter: Grandchild in Jail
Scam Spotter: Taxes Paid With Gift Cards

Wild Gift's D.J. Caruso, known for feature films Disturbia and XXX: Return of Xander Cage, directs with cinematic flair. The clips absurdly tweak Hollywood action and suspense tropes to make their point: If someone demands payment in gift cards to resolve a problem, they're pulling a scam.

The work touts Google's Scam Spotter platform, which launched last year. The agency Mischief @ No Fixed Address led campaign development in partnership with Sandy Russell Creative. Dini von Mueffling Communications provided PR and influencer support.

Strike Anywhere's Pete Marquis directed additional PSAs, including this quick take on "office-bonus" swindles.

"We talked about our own experiences with these scams, people we know, stories of people getting duped, or almost getting duped by them," Mischief partner and executive creative director Kevin Mulroy tells Muse. "There are a lot of different types of these calls, but the most dramatic ones serve as the best example of the basic truth: The premise of the scam is inherently absurd. The idea that any authority figure—the FBI, the DEA, the IRS, your boss—needs the serial numbers off the back of a gift card to solve a problem sounds like the premise of an SNL short. So, we pushed the scenario to be bigger, crazier, more bombastic. We wanted people to stop and think about what's being asked of them."

"Scammers love gift cards because they are untraceable, and there's no way to recover the money once a scammer has the card details," says Jenny Grounds, CMO of nonprofit Cybercrime Support Network, Google's partner in Scam Spotter. "Our mission is to educate people about these scams so they can be their best first line of defense against scammers."

Spending on gift cards is set to jump by more than 25 percent this year amid supply-chain shortages. That sets the stage for a surge in scamming, which makes the campaign's message particularly pressing this holiday season.

Striving for entertainment value and sharability, the creative approach channels successful public-service and advocacy campaigns ranging from "Dumb Ways to Die" to "The Great Schlep" and "Get Your Booty to the Polls." 

"Tropes, rather than specific films" informed the storylines, adds Mulroy. "Crashing the gate, unnecessarily commandeering a vehicle, gratuitous skydiving, stun grenades, outrunning the fireball—the bigger and more farfetched, the better."

During casting calls in Croatia, one 60-something hopeful "actually rappelled down a 20-foot wall for her audition," Mulroy recalls. "She was so amazing that we couldn't give her the part. She looked too competent to land the concept of unbelievability. But if anyone out there is writing a screenplay featuring a badass grandma action-hero with a heavy Eastern European accent, hit us up. We've got your gal!"


Brand: Scam Spotter

Lead Agency: Sandy Russell Creative
Sandy Russell, Founder and CEO
Nicole Brooker, Brand and Creative Strategy Director
Raquel Wilbun, Media and Measurement Director
Rakel Krook Smith, Executive Producer
Erin Swenson, Comms Strategy Director
Julia Ordog, Researcher and Strategist 
Eric Otten, Designer and Writer 

Creative Lead Agency: Mischief
Greg Hahn, Chief Creative Officer and Co-Founder
Bianca Guimaraes, Executive Creative Director and Partner
Kevin Mulroy, Executive Creative Director and Partner
Hunter Fine, Creative Director
Sabrina Saccente, Designer
Jeff McCrory, Head of Planning
Kristie Lee, Director of Comms Planning and Media
Charlotte MacGregor, Digital Strategic Director
Laith Goldie, Junior Digital Strategist
Will Dempster, EVP Production
Kerry McKibbin, President
Tyler Harris, Group Account Director
Andy Bugelli, Account Supervisor

PR: Dini Von Mueffling Consulting
Dini Von Mueffling, Founder and President
Brittany Gbur
Daniel Lempert
Stephanie Morris

Media: Digilant
Kate Bell, New Business Director
Sandra Abi-Rashed, VP, Client Services
Tera Sullivan, Account Director
Earnest Park, Director, Media

Relative in Jail and IRS Production Company: Wild Gift
D.J. Caruso, Director
David Mitchell, Founder / Executive Producer
Tomer DeVito, Founder / Executive Producer
Julie Sawyer, Line Producer
Flavio Labiano, Director of Photography

Relative in Jail and IRS Production Services: Entity Films 
Jernej Krivic, Executive Producer
Ivan Petrušić, Line Producer
Ondrey Potyka, Production Designer

Relative in Jail and IRS Post-Production Company: Harbor Picture Company 
Steve Evans, Editor
Casey Swircz, Sr. Post Producer

Relative in Jail and IRS Music Company: JSM Music
Joel Simon, CEO/CCO/Composer
Jeff Fiorello, VP/Executive Producer
Norm Felker, Producer
Sharon Cha, Producer
Andrew Manning, Producer
Nathan Kil, Composer/Sound Designer
Nate Morgan, Composer
Seamus Kilmartin, Composer

Pre-Approved, Boss, Founder and Virus Production Company: Strike Anywhere
Pete Marquis, Director
Julia Swain, Director of Photography
Adam Lawson, Line Producer
Laurent Turlure, Production Designer
Victoria Guenier, Executive Producer

Pre-Approved, Boss, Founder and Virus Editorial: MackCut 
Gina Pagano, Executive Producer
Nick Divers, Editor
Franklin Ponce, Editor
Arden Phillips, Editor
Sam Shaffer, Mix
Stephen Picano, Color
Jim Hayhow, Conform

Site Design: UpperQuad
Jason Dietrick, Creative Director
Zhihao Wu, Technical Lead
Emily Headden, Senior Producer
Melanie Wood, Production Director
Phil Ruppaner, CEO and Founder

David Gianatasio
David Gianatasio is managing editor at Clio Awards.

Advertise With Us

Featured Clio Award Winner



The best in creativity delivered to your inbox every morning.