But being the height of travel season, the Better Business Bureau warns, it’s also ripe for the “Family Emergency Scam” – also known as the “Grandparent Scam,” named for its primary targets … and victims.
In this ruse, scammers posing as family members – typically grandchildren - telephone you claiming to have been arrested or hurt while traveling abroad. I need cash fast! they tell you. And please don’t tell my parents. The usual plea is to wire transfer the money.
Your name and phone number has probably been gleaned from online telephone directories or purchased lists that sometimes indicate subscribers’ ages. Fraudsters try to convince you they are indeed your grandchild by citing names and family details pooled from social networking websites, genealogy sites that provide public family trees, obituaries for deceased spouses that include grandchildren’s names and other sources.
Since 2010, the Federal Trade Commission has received more than 40,000 complaints about such scams, with money losses in the tens of millions. Likely, though, most cases go unreported. Although grandparents are usually targeted, it can be other family members or even friends of the person supposedly in need of help.
So if you get one of these calls, don’t fall for it. One approach is just to hang up. But if you’re concerned it might be real, follow these steps:
- Verify the caller’s real identity by asking questions that your grandchild could answer, but a stranger couldn’t possibly – or provide some misinformation and gauge the response.
- Say you will return the call at his or her home or cellphone (but don’t ask the caller for it). If you don’t have the phone number, contact a trusted family member for it.
- Check the story out with someone else in your family or circle of friends, even if you’ve been told to keep it a secret.
- Never provide your bank or credit card account numbers to any caller – and don’t wire-transfer funds. Scammers often request money sent this way because once you give them a wire-transfer confirmation number, they can collect funds anywhere in the world (no matter where they claim to be).
Photo: Alan Alfaro/Flickr
Also of Interest
- Man’s Best Friend Used in Pet Scams
- Scam Alert: If It’s Misspelled, Is It From a Scammer?
- Join AARP: Savings, resources and news for your well-being
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