Imagine being woken by a phone call in the middle of the night. It’s your crying grandchild, who is asking for money because of an accident. Of course you want to help your loved one, so you do whatever you can in this emergency situation. You open your wallet without hesitation.
Unfortunately you’ve just become a victim of a scam that is happening across the country. Known as the “grandparent scam,” this type of fraud involves bogus calls from people claiming to be relatives in trouble. The personal nature and urgency of these calls causes people to let their guard down, and act quickly without verifying the validity of the call.
“Criminals often target older people, but in reality anyone of any age can be a target of a scam,” says Phil Hopkins, vice president of global security with Western Union. “With more people sharing personal information online, such as through social media websites, it’s easier for criminals to learn details of personal relationships so they can imitate loved ones by name. Newspapers and obituaries are also good sources of personal information, providing detailed relationship information.”
Con artists may also impersonate attorneys, police officers or bail bondsmen to create a sense of urgency and legitimacy. Add in loud background noises, muffled voices or fuzzy phone lines, and it’s easy to believe someone is calling from jail or a remote location, where he or she may be in trouble.
In addition to calling victims, hackers use similar strategies to target victims through email. Tapping into a person’s address book, scammers send emails or instant messages directly from the person’s email account alerting friends and others of the “emergency” and requesting funds. Do not respond to the email and confirm the situation by contacting the person by phone or other means.
“Awareness is the best defense against emergency scams,” says Hopkins. “These scams can be convincing, but it’s important to keep a few things in mind before you rush to help.”
Hopkins recommends you follow these tips to avoid becoming a victim of the emergency scam or other types of fraud:
1. If you receive a phone call or email claiming a friend or family member needs cash, take a moment to review the situation. Does it make sense? Can you verify the emergency?
2. Call the person at a known telephone number, not a number given to you by the caller. Or, call a mutual friend or another relative and find out if he or she is aware of the situation.
3. Let your friend or family member know that you have received a call or email from the person requesting help. If the request turns out to be fake, contact the police immediately.
4. Regardless of whether you are contacted by phone, email or some other means, be suspicious of requests to send money to “help a friend or family member out” unless you can verify the information you’ve been given with 100 percent confidence.
5. If you did send a money transfer through Western Union, and then realize that it was for a scam, contact the Western Union Fraud Hotline at 1-800-448-1492. If the transaction has not been picked up, it will be refunded to you.
6. Never send money to someone you have not met in person.
7. For more information on scams or for more tips on how to help protect yourself from scams, visit www.WesternUnion.com/stopfraud.