Emergency scams, or “grandparent scams” as they’re commonly called, involve fraudsters looking to swindle unsuspecting victims out of cash by pretending to be a family member or friend who’s in trouble, according to the Better Business Bureau.
The ruse usually begins with a phone call from a loved one in distress and in dire need of money. Scammers will try to make their claims as realistic as possible, experts warn, incorporating nicknames, travel plans and other personal details using information they’ve gathered from social media.
It usually ends with a vulnerable grandparent or relative wiring the scammer a large amount of cash or gift cards, never to be paid back. A new version of the scam involving rideshare drivers has public officials in some states on alert.
In a recent warning, Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr said scammers will claim they’re sending a courier to the person’s home to pick up the money. However, that courier is usually an “unwitting Uber or Lyft driver.”
“Scam artists prey on people’s emotions by trying to instill fear or create a sense of urgency in the hopes that people will act before thinking things through,” Carr said in a statement. “We encourage people to tell their older relatives about this scam so they can spot the warning signs and avoid becoming victims.”
Carr added that the scammers will sometimes call back to ask for more cash, which is untraceable once it’s gone.
“There is a charge, theft by deception, but in these cases, it’s really really hard (to have your money returned) when there is no traceability,”
Albany, Georgia, Police Department investigator Darryl Jones told WALB.
“Cash is not traceable or they’ve come from a number that is scrambled.”
In another variation, parents may get a call from a fraudster claiming a child or other relative has been kidnapped before demanding ransom via wire transfer, according to Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office.
The BBB’s ScamTracker has recorded at least 10 cases of grandparent scams so far this year. In a previous case from 2019, one one person reported their grandparents losing as much as $2,000 in gift cards to a “family friend” who claimed to be stuck in jail.
To avoid being swindled, the watchdog agency says it’s important not to make rash decisions — no matter how dramatic or dire your “loved one’s” emergency might be. When in doubt, contact your friend or relative directly.
Also be aware of what your friends and family are sharing on social media and be sure their story checks out before agreeing to send money, experts said.
Any suspected incidents of fraud should be immediately reported to the police.