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June 10, 2024 Security

Emergency Scams: Protecting You and Those You Love

Your grandson’s calling – and he’s in big trouble! He’s been kidnapped and is being held for ransom, so he needs you to wire over money quickly. 

Beware! You’re probably being scammed. This type of scam is known as an Emergency Scam. A scammer is trying to make you think there is an emergency and impersonating a friend or family member who urgently needs your help. Let’s look into the specifics of how these scams operate, who they target, and how you can protect yourself. 

How The Scam Plays Out 

This scam mostly plays out with a phone call, text, or email. The caller will claim to have been caught in hot water, which can be anything: a kidnapping, an issue with the police, a car accident, or getting stuck overseas with no money. The caller will then ask the target to send over money quickly. They will explain that you can use wire transfer, a prepaid debit card, or cryptocurrency. Unfortunately, if the victim follows the caller’s directions and sends money, it will go straight to the scammer and the transaction will be irreversible. 

Common Scenarios 

  • Kidnapping Ransom: The scammer claims your loved one has been kidnapped and demands ransom money. 
  • Arrest Situation: They pretend to be your relative in jail needing bail money. 
  • Travel Trouble: They say they’re stranded abroad without money due to a theft or lost wallet. 
  • Medical Emergency: They allege a sudden accident requiring immediate medical funds. 

Who is Targeted? 

While emergency scams are commonly used on the elderly, everyone should be on the lookout for them. They can target anyone! However, seniors are often more vulnerable. 

What Red Flags to Watch Out For 

Here are some signs that can alert you to the possibility of an emergency scam: 

  • Your “relative” calls to tell you about an emergency situation they’re in, but they ask you not to share this information with family members or anyone else. 
  • They tell you it has to be done quickly and want immediate action. 
  • You’re asked to send money by a wire transfer, prepaid gift card, or cryptocurrency. 
  • They ask about personal information that a true relative may already know. 
  • The story they tell seems overly dramatic or unlikely. 

Protect Yourself 

Follow these tips to help keep yourself safe from emergency scams: 

  •  Verify the Caller: If a friend or family member calls you with an urgent request for funds, hang up and call them directly from a number they’ll recognize. Don’t redial the number that just called you, but verify you have the right number with another person or go to their contact information and phone them from there. 
  • Never Wire Money or Send Prepaid Gift Cards: Scammers often ask for these because they are difficult to trace and can be easily converted to cash. 
  • Ask Personal Questions: Ask the caller questions about shared memories or other details that only the real person would know to determine if they are who they claim to be. 
  • Avoid Quick Decisions: Always be cautious and avoid acting too quickly regardless of the situation. Take your time to verify the information. 
  • Don’t Share Personal Information: Be cautious about sharing personal info over the phone, especially if you didn’t initiate the call. 
  • Involve Others: Don’t be afraid to share details of a phone call with other family members and friends. Ask them if you are unsure about a situation. 

Real-Life Examples 

Recently, a 77-year-old woman received a frantic call from someone claiming to be her grandson. He said he was in a car accident and needed money to pay for the medical expenses of the driver he had hit, who happened to be pregnant. She paid the scammers $9,500 dollars. They continued to try to scam her and asked for an additional $5,000 dollars but she became suspicious and called the police. Read the whole story on the Hingman Police Department website. 

Similarly, this same type of scam happened to an unknowing father who picked up the phone and heard the voice of his son, only to later find out that they were using AI to imitate his son’s voice in an attempt to get money. Read more about it on the Independent News website.   

According to the FBI Elder Fraud Report of 2023, scams targeting elderly people up 14% from 2022. These scams caused 3.4 billion dollars in losses in 2023. That is a lot of money lost, and it continues to increase each year!  

Emergency scams are a serious threat, but with awareness and caution, you can protect yourself and your loved ones. Remember to verify the identity of anyone who contacts you with an urgent request for money and to involve other family members in such situations. Stay informed, stay vigilant, and help spread the word about these deceptive practices. 

If you ever need to report an internet crime or scam, do so at www.ic3.gov.