“Grandma? Is that you?”
“What’s the matter, honey?”
“Grandma, you gotta help me! They’re going to arrest me if I don’t pay the fine – and I lost my wallet! I don’t have a penny on me or any ID. Can you wire me some money?”
Does this sound like a phone call that can really tug at your heartstrings? It’s actually more like a diabolical plot by devious scammers. There’s no emergency, no imminent arrest and no lost wallet. In fact, it isn’t even your grandchild on the line; you’re speaking to a criminal who wants to get their hands on your money.
Family emergency scams, often referred to as “grandparent scams,” are some of the most nefarious around. They prey on parents and the elderly and take advantage of the natural affections of family. They’re usually pulled off in the guise of a frantic phone call, though they sometimes show up as an urgent email, text, or social media post using the same panicky message.
Don’t be the next victim of this ruse! Read on to learn how to identify an emergency scam and what to do if you’ve been victimized.
Three ways to spot an emergency scam:
1. The caller will insist upon absolute secrecy.
Once your “child” or “grandchild” has had their say, the scammer will then take the phone, impersonating an authority figure who is out to make the arrest and demanding that payment be made immediately. They’ll stress the importance of keeping the entire business hush-hush so nobody gets hurt. But, of course, the real reason behind their need for secrecy is to keep you from doing too much digging and identifying the scam for what it is. Any true law enforcement officer would have no request for such secrecy.
2. The “authority figure” will only accept certain means of payment.
If you ever receive a phone call insisting that you wire money, send a prepaid debit card, cashier’s check, or certified check in return for helping your grandchild from a distressing situation, you can be certain it’s a scam. Criminals love these payment methods because they provide the victim with very little recourse once they’ve discovered the scam.
3. Your “child” or “grandchild” does not know basic information about themselves or family.
It’s hard not to be duped into helping out your grandchild when they sound so stressed on the phone. It can also be hard to recognize your grandchild’s voice over a phone that has iffy reception, or from an overseas phone call if your grandchild is abroad. To make it even more complicated, scammers will use any information they can find about your grandchild’s life to appear legitimate. They glean social media for any and all information they can find about the person to make it seem real. If the scam is carried out through email, they may even hack your grandchild’s email account so their missive appears to be coming directly from your grandchild.
If you ever receive a call or an email like the one described above, simply ask the caller about some personal details that a stranger would not be able to scrape off of your grandchild’s social media accounts. Ask about specific family memories or even jokes that will immediately let you know who you’re really dealing with.
If you’ve gotten a frantic phone call from your grandchild slow down and stay calm. Focus on thinking logically. You’ll be urged to act quickly, but take a minute to call your grandchild on your own to verify his or her whereabouts. You can also call the grandchild’s parents to ask where they might be at this time. You may be surprised to learn that your grandchild is safe at home! Also text the parents in case they are in a meeting or cannot pick up your call. Don’t panic just because someone doesn’t answer right away.
If you’ve fallen for the scam and you’ve only recognized the ruse after you’ve sent your money, you may still be able to reclaim some or all of your funds by reporting the scam to the Federal Trade Commission at www.ftc.gov or by calling 1-877-FTC-HELP. Even if you can’t reclaim your lost funds, you’ll be doing your part to help the authorities put those crooks behind bars.
Don’t let scammers pull the wool over your eyes. Stay one step ahead of them by being staying calm and alert. Show them that no one messes with grandma!