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Beyond the Basics:

Impersonators Use Emergency Scams to Steal Money

Blood is thicker than water (or so these crooks hope)

Let's say you got a sudden call or message from someone you care about, such as a relative, telling you they were in trouble and in desperate need of assistance. Chances are, your first instinct would be to do whatever you could to help.

That's just what the perpetrators of so-called "emergency scams" are counting on. They take advantage of a person's desire to help a loved one in need and leverage the anxiety they create to extract money. The tactics are simple, but the results are devastating.

A Plea for Help
An emergency scam usually starts with a phone call or a message from someone pretending to be a family member in dire need of help. The circumstances vary, but they almost always involve a sudden turn of events and a request for money to resolve the situation.

Examples of the emergency stories told by these scammers include:

Sometimes the scammer even impersonates a police officer calling about a relative supposedly in trouble.

Who wouldn't want to help someone in such dire straits? Especially if that someone was a grandchild, a favorite cousin, or even an elderly relative?

The sad truth is that all too often, these pleas for help are in fact fraudulent requests for money, run by scammers who have acquired just enough information about their targets to impersonate a loved one and take advantage of their care and concern.

Spotting someone who is impersonating your grandchild isn't always as easy as it seems, and the scammers know it. Grandparents are often targeted precisely because they're not in regular contact with younger family members living in other states.

If the scammer's identity is questioned by the target, they might claim to have been injured as a way of explaining why they sound "different." Another common ploy is to have someone else call on their behalf (with enough personal details to be convincing) and claim the "grandchild" is too injured to speak for themselves.

Why These Scams Work
Apart from being very good at impersonation, these scam artists use several tricks to make this fraud effective:

How to Guard Against Fake "Emergencies"
Here are some ways you can protect yourself from handing over money to a scammer:

Trust, But Verify
It's important to keep a cool head when you get a call from a loved one claiming to be in trouble and asking for money. Above all, resist the urge to act rashly. It should be easy enough to verify the story, and if your family member is indeed in trouble, you can still help.

FAST FACT: Last year, nearly one in five people reported losing money in an impostor scheme like the grandparent scam, amounting to a loss of $328 million.1

1Source: https://www.aarp.org/money/scams-fraud/info-2018/grandparent-scam-scenarios.html