“Grandma, you gotta help me! They’re going to arrest me if I don’t pay the fine – and I lost my wallet! Can you wire me some money?”
Sounds like a heart-tugging phone call, doesn’t it? It’s actually just a plot by devious scammers. There’s no imminent arrest and no lost wallet. In fact, it isn’t even your grandchild on the line.
Family emergency scams are especially nefarious since they take advantage of the natural affection a grandparent has for a grandchild. They’re usually pulled off in the guise of a frantic phone call that appears to be from the victim’s grandchild.
Here’s how to identify an emergency scam and what to do if you’ve been victimized.
3 ways to spot emergency scams
1. The caller insists upon secrecy
Once your “grandchild” has had his or her 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 it hush-hush so nobody gets hurt, but the real reason behind their gag order is to keep you from digging and identifying the scam.
2. The “authority figure” will only accept certain payment methods
If you receive a phone call insisting that you wire money, or send a prepaid debit card or certified check to save your grandchild from a distressing situation, you’re looking at a scam.
3. Your “grandchild” doesn’t know basic identifying information
It can be difficult to recognize your grandchild’s voice over a phone that has iffy reception. If you receive a call like the one described above, ask the caller about some information that a stranger would not be able to find on your grandchild’s social media accounts. This will let you know who you’re dealing with.
If you’ve been scammed
If you’ve gotten a frantic phone call like this from your grandchild and you believe it to be true, don’t react. First, call your grandchild on your own to verify his or her whereabouts. You may be surprised to learn your grandchild is safe at home!
If you’ve only recognized the ruse after you’ve sent your money, report the scam to the Federal Trade Commission at ftc.gov.