“Hi, Gram, I need your help and you have to promise not to tell Mom and Dad. I got arrested in Mexico and I need $2,000 bail money…”
“Grandpa, I’m in London with my college roommate. You remember Carol? We were robbed last night in a pub and now I have no money to get home.”
Consumer scams are a serious problem in North America, and this is one of the most common: the Emergency Scam, where the scammer poses as a friend or family member in trouble, often overseas, and requests that money be sent. It’s sometimes called the Grandparent Scam because seniors are often targeted by scammers pretending to be grandchildren.
“During the summer travel season, there is an increased potential for Emergency or Grandparent Scams to occur”, said Mechele Agbayani Mills, President and CEO of BBB Serving Central East Texas. “More people are traveling, and whenever people are vulnerable, fraudsters will generally attack.”
Emergency scams play off people’s emotions and strong desire to help others in need. Scammers impersonate their victims’ loved ones, often using information they’ve picked up on social media, and make up an urgent situation – I’ve been arrested, I’ve been mugged, I’m in the hospital. The scammer makes an urgent plea for help…and money. In most cases, the scammer asks for money to be wired immediately. The victim often responds quickly and without checking first to see if the pleading voice on the other end of the phone really is their grandchild or other loved one.
Better Business Bureau has partnered with Western Union in an effort to educate consumers about how to protect themselves from Emergency Scams during the summer travel season. Western Union offers these “Money Transfer Never Evers” to help consumers avoid scams:
- Never use a money transfer service (money order or Green Dot Moneypak, for example) to send money to someone you have not met in person.
- Never send money for an emergency situation without verifying that it’s a real emergency; ignore the caller’s plea not to tell others; confirm through other friends and family.
- Never send funds received by check until it officially clears in your account, which can take several days, or more.
BBB also cautions consumers not to disclose any information before confirming that the caller is actually a family member. Ask a personal question without disclosing too much information. For example, if a grandparent receives a call from someone claiming to be their grandchild in distress, ask a simple question that the family member would know such as what school he or she goes to, their middle name or the name of the family pet.
Go to BBB Scam Stopper (bbb.org/scamstopper) for more information and tips on what to watch out for. Learn more about common scams, the science of scams, and how scammers use psychological tactics to prey on victims. You can also “Report a Scam”, and sign up for weekly “BBB Scam Alerts” to learn about the latest tricks that scammers are using. For more tips on how to be a savvy consumer, go to www.bbb.org.