The phone call comes in. You hear your child’s or grandchild’s voice flash across the line. Then the nightmare scenario begins.
They’ve got your loved one. And if you don’t wire them the money, that loved one will be killed. If you call the police, they will be killed. If you disconnect the call, they will be killed. Anything you can think of, they’ve got it covered. And your loved one will die.
This scam is getting increasingly common these days. And in a world where headlines depict all kinds of human trafficking, the fear can be all too real. But chances are this is just a fraud call. That voice you heard at the start of the call was not your relative.
To prove it, write down your loved one’s phone number or the number to their school or workplace and spell out the situation silently on a piece of paper to someone nearby. Have that person make the call and confirm your loved one hasn’t been kidnapped. Once the welfare check has been confirmed, just hang up.
The kidnapping scam has happened here on the Central Coast. And it’s convincing enough that people have attempted wire transfers to help save their relatives’ lives. But have no fear. Like many different financial scams out there, there are ways you can sniff out the red flags and make sure you do not become a victim. Here are some of the other most popular fraud attacks, many of which target seniors and retirees.
You may begin noticing a pattern. Many of these scams happen over the phone.
With collection fraud, the caller will claim to represent an organization like a local utility or the IRS and say you owe an overdue payment or back taxes. They’ll threaten that if the minimum payment is not immediately made, your utilities will be shut off or law enforcement will be sent to make an arrest. The caller will suggest you use your credit card or share your checking account information to settle the bill. They may even request you buy a prepaid credit or gift card and give them the card number.
Don’t fall for the fear tactics, and do not make a payment. No legitimate organization will ever ask you to pay through gift cards. This scam is all about getting your payment information and using it to steal money from your accounts. Don’t trust caller ID or any phone numbers the scammer gives you. If you get this call, just hang up and call the company or agency at their official listed phone number to find out the truth.
This one is a nicer variation of the kidnapping scam, and because of its softer touch, it might be more believable.
With the grandparent scam, the caller will pretend to be a grandchild who needs help getting out of a sticky financial situation at a popular spring break or study-abroad spot overseas or in Mexico. The scammer will trick the grandparent into saying their grandchild’s name on their own or reveal other personal information to make it sound like the caller knows more than they do. They’ll say their ATM card isn’t working and they need money wired to them to get home or pay a traffic fine. They’ll even ask not to involve mom and dad as a way to build fake trust.
Guilt plays a major role in this one. The grandparent feels like they’re the only one who can help. But even though the caller requests not to call up the parents, that’s the best bet. Just like the kidnapping scam, confirming the identity of the caller is the key. You’ll find out your relative isn’t out of the country. They are probably sitting in a classroom somewhere.
While the previous frauds thrive on creating panic, not all scams prey on people in the moment.
Criminals using the sweetheart scam are playing the long game. They target single seniors by luring them into long-distance romantic relationships where they can quickly earn their trust, use hard-luck stories to solicit financial support and even gain power of attorney over their victims and steal money at their leisure.
Be wary of strangers you meet online, even through well-known dating or social media sites. It’s common to meet new friends or romantic interests online these days, but the moment they ask for money, it’s a huge red flag. If things begin to get serious, verify the person’s identity. Make sure they are who they claim to be. Turn down their request for money. If they really care about you, they won't let money get in the way.
This one starts off in the mail before luring you onto the phone.
Scammers using the a lottery fraud will send a letter claiming that you’ve won a cash prize and need to call an official sounding state commission to claim your winnings. They may ask that you pay the taxes up front before receiving the money. Some may even provide an overpayment check where you deposit a certain amount, and anything over that must be wired back to the agency. Like many of the other scams listed, a common aspect will have the issuer of the prize coaching you not to contact anyone about it.
None of this is legitimate. No state agency or other legitimate organization will mail you giving you a cash prize for nothing. Whether it be $100 or a million, it’s just a scam. And if someone is urging you not to contact friends, family members, the authorities or law enforcement, chances are very high that they are attempting to make you a victim.