Avoid This Telephone Scam, or You Could Lose Thousands.
Telephone scams are nothing new, but recently, there has been a particularly malicious scam making the rounds.
How this Scam Works
What happens is this: someone calls you and says they are your relative or your relative’s friend – maybe your nephew or grandchild or cousin’s best friend. Then, they tell you they are in trouble and require emergency funds. They might claim to have been arrested or had their car stolen, or desperately need to pay someone back to stay out of harm’s way.
The truth is, that person isn’t your relative. You don’t even know them!
They are an imposter.
The idea is to create a sense of urgency, hoping you send the money without thinking twice. You might wire the funds, purchase a pre-paid gift card, or share your credit card number.
The worst part about it? The scammers often target the elderly.
Let’s have a look at three examples of this scam.
The man who almost lost $3,000
An elderly man walked into a grocery chain and asked a worker to wire $3,000 to a relative in Las Vegas. The caller told him that his brother was in trouble and needed the cash as soon as possible.
The worker did not wire the money right away because he had heard of this scam and was suspicious. He told the older man about this scam and suggested the man call his brother and confirm the situation.
The man agreed, left, and never returned to send the money. It turns out that the man reached his brother and learned there was no emergency after all.
Nephew (not) in trouble
An older woman received a call from someone claiming to be her nephew. The boy on the phone sounded panicked and begged urgently for a whopping $4,000.
Unfortunately, the woman panicked too. She sent the money without thinking the situation through.
That’s $4,000 gone for good.
What’s your Birthday?
One individual received a call from someone claiming to be their grandson. Luckily, this person was familiar with telephone scams. They weren’t going to let someone steal their money!
The person asked their “grandson” what his birthday is. The caller didn’t answer. Instead, he ended the call, proving that it was, in fact, a telephone scam.
4 Tips for Avoiding This Telephone Scam
Don’t get swept up in this terrible telephone scam. Be smart, and use these four tips.
Spread the Word
First and foremost, warn everyone you know about the scam, especially elderly relatives and friends. The elderly are often specifically targeted.
If you and others are aware of the scam, you can use the following three tips to verify the caller’s identity and keep your money safe.
Ask the Caller Their Birthday
Just as the person did in our third, real-life example, ask the caller their birthdate. This question is one way to verify the caller’s identity.
If the caller hangs up, you’ll know that it was a scam. If they share the correct birthdate, you’ll know that the caller ‘might’ be who they say they are.
Keep in mind, callers may know your name and even the name of and birthdate of the relative they are claiming to be. So this information is not enough to verify their identity.
If you are suspicious, ask a few other questions that the caller should know. Ask a question such as “How is your sister?” when you know they don’t have a sister. A scammer might say “She’s fine.” Your legitimate relative will say, “What!? You know I don’t have a sister!”
Call Them Back
Hang up the phone, and call them back on their regular phone number (such as their cell number or landline that you have in your phone book or contacts list), not the number they called you on.
If they answer, ask them if they are in trouble. Usually they will say something like, “What? Why would you ask that!?” if the original caller was a scam artist.
Call the Parent, Another Relative or a Close Friend
If it’s a younger relative calling you and asking for help, hang up the phone and call their parents. Ask their parents where their son or daughter is, and if they are in any trouble. Confirm the caller’s story with another relative before you send the money.
Or sometimes the caller will ask you to not tell their parents because they will get in trouble. If you want to confirm the caller’s identity without calling a parent, go back to Tip #2 and start asking for personal information.
In general, if someone asks you to wire them money directly, send them a pre-paid gift card or give them your credit card number over the phone, they are probably a scam artist. One key sign of scam artists is they need the money immediately, like their life depended on it. They usually ask for a payment between $1,000 and $5,000. And their voice may sound a little ‘funny,’ so they might explain they have a cold or have a bad connection.
If you are suspicious, listen to your intuition, to that funny feeling you have, and challenge their authenticity.
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This information is provided for general consumer educational purposes only and is not intended to provide legal, tax or investment advice.