Scammers impersonate their victims and make up an urgent situation – “I’ve been arrested,” “I’ve been mugged,” “I’m in the hospital” – and target friends and family with urgent pleas for help, and money.
This scam tends to pop up in the spring, when students travel away from home,” said Tom Stephens, BBB president. “We know that receiving a frantic phone call may scare people into letting their guard down, but we encourage everyone to make sure they know signs of this scam to keep their money safe.”
BBB offers the following tips to help people avoid the grandparent scam:
- Know the red flags. Typically, the grandparent receives a frantic phone call from a scammer posing as a grandchild. The “grandchild” explains that he or she is in some kind of trouble and needs help. The "grandchild" pleads to the grandparents not to tell his or her parents and asks that they wire thousands of dollars for reasons such as posting bail, repairing a car, covering lawyer's fees or even paying hospital bills.
- Stay calm. Emergency scams count on an emotional reaction. It’s important to resist the pressure to act quickly or react to the caller’s distress. Tell them you’ll call back and ask for a number; then contact your grandchild or another family member to determine whether or not the call is legitimate, and confirm the whereabouts of the grandchild.
- Ask a personal question, but don’t disclose too much information. If a caller says "It's me, Grandma!" don't respond with a name, but instead let the caller explain who he or she is. One easy way to confirm their identity is to ask a simple question that the grandchild would know such as what school he or she goes to or their middle name. Your family might consider developing a secret code or password that can be used to verify a true emergency.
- Do not wire money. Wiring money is like giving cash—once you send it, you can’t get it back. If you are asked to wire money based on a request made over the phone, especially to locations overseas, consider it a serious red flag. Always make certain of the recipient’s identity before using a wire service or pre-paid debit cards.
- Communicate. Students should share travel plans with family members before leaving the state or country. Parents are encouraged to let extended family members know when their child is traveling.
- Share information. Students should provide cell phone numbers and email addresses of friends they are traveling with in the case of an emergency. Family members should remind students to be cautious when sharing details about travel plans on social media.
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