(KDKZ-TV) With spring break on the way, students of all ages will soon be on the move. While many parents and grandparents worry about children who are traveling far and wide, scammers may use this time as an opportunity to pull the so-called “grandparent scam.”
“This scam tends to pop-up in the spring, when students travel away from home, and family members tend to worry about their general safety,” said Michelle Corey, Better Business Bureau St. Louis president and CEO. “Scammers will call family members and pretend to be a child, grandchild or a friend of the child who has run into a difficult situation while traveling. The scammer may claim to have been arrested, mugged or hospitalized and make urgent pleas for money.”
Receiving a frantic phone call may scare people into letting their guard down, but BBB encourages everyone to make sure they know signs of this scam. If you get such a call, resist any request to send money immediately. Ask for a phone number to contact the person back, then check with other relatives to determine the whereabouts of the person who is allegedly stranded. A request for you to send money by Western Union, MoneyGram or a prepaid card like Green Dot MoneyPak is often a scam. Here are some BBB tips to avoid the grandparent scam:
- Know the red flags. Typically, the grandparent receives a frantic phone call from a scammer posing as a grandchild, or a friend of the grandchild. The “grandchild” explains that he or she is in some kind of trouble and needs help. The “grandchild” pleads to the grandparents not to tell his or her parents and asks that they wire thousands of dollars for reasons such as posting bail, repairing a car, covering lawyer’s fees or even paying hospital bills.
- Stay calm. Emergency scams count on an emotional reaction. It’s important to resist the pressure to act quickly or react to the caller’s distress. Tell them you’ll call back and ask for a number; then contact your grandchild or another family member to determine whether or not the call is legitimate, and confirm the whereabouts of the grandchild.
- Ask a personal question, but don’t disclose too much information. If a caller says “It’s me, Grandma!” don’t respond with a name, but instead let the caller explain who he or she is. One easy way to confirm their identity is to ask a simple question that the grandchild would know such as what school he or she goes to or their middle name. Your family might consider developing a secret code or password that can be used to verify a true emergency.
- Do not wire money. Wiring money is like giving cash—once you send it, you can’t get it back. If you are asked to wire money based on a request made over the phone, especially to locations overseas, consider it a serious red flag. Always make certain of the recipient’s identity before using a wire service or pre-paid debit cards.
- File a claim. If you believe you are the victim of a scam between January 1, 2004, and January 19, 2017 and used Western Union’s money transfer system, you can now file a claim to get your money back. You have until May 31, 2018 to file the free claim. Learn more about filing a claim here.
- Students should share travel plans with family members before leaving the state or country. Parents are encouraged to let extended family members know when their child is traveling.
- Share information. Students should provide cell phone numbers and email addresses of friends they are traveling with in the case of an emergency. Family members should remind students to be cautious when sharing details about travel plans on social media.
- Make a report. To report a scam or learn more about the latest scams trending in your area, go to bbb.org/scamtracker.
- Use due diligence. Consumers may obtain a BBB Business Profile on an individual business at bbb.org or by calling 888-996-3887.