Grandparent Scam Just Got Scarier

As posted on August 3, 2011 on

The Better Business Bureau ("BBB") is issuing a RED ALERT regarding a new twist on the Grandparent Scam that involves the caller already knowing detailed information regarding family members. In addition, the calls are not targeted strictly at seniors and the money requested is to be wired to Mexico. 
The original scam generally worked like this--the grandparent or parent receives a distressed phone call from who they believe is their grandchild or child. The supposed grandchild typically explains that they are travelling and have been arrested or involved in auto accident and need money wired to post bail, pay for damages or pay for hospital care-usually amounting to a few thousand dollars. 
The scammers' basic tactic is to pose as a grandchild and let the unsuspecting grandparent fill in the blanks. For example, the scam caller might say, "It's me, your favorite grandchild," to which the grandparent will guess the name of the grandchild it sounds the most like, and then the call proceeds from there. 
In the updated scam, callers identify themselves by specific name as a particular family member. They say they are being held in jail in Mexico and they need bail money wired immediately. They lace their conversation with correct references by name to other family members, increasing their credibility. One caller even knew that the real person being impersonated had a twin who was born two minutes later.
To protect themselves from this scam, and other scams that may use a distressed loved-one tactic, BBB is advising people to remain calm and confirm the status of the individual by calling them back directly or verifying the story with other family members before taking any further action. Developing a secret code that is known only within the family is also recommended.  Also remember that if a loved one is injured while traveling, it’s highly unlikely that emergency help will be withheld.
The BBB also encourages people to limit the amount of personal information shared on social media sites and to only "friend" people they personally know themselves.  By posting that you’re going on a trip, and especially where you’re going, you are providing scammers just the information they need to try and scam the ones you love.

If you should receive any type of message that a loved one is in danger, hurt or in jail while on vacation, take a deep breath and remember to do the following:
1. Try and call the individual yourself.  Don’t panic if you are unable to reach them right away if you know they are traveling in remote areas with little or no cell phone service.
2. If the person is able to call you about your loved one, then you should be able to call your loved one.  If they try and tell you they cannot for any reason, use extreme caution.  Just because they allege your loved one may be in danger doesn’t mean their cell phone won’t work.
3. Contact the police where your loved one is travelling if you’re unable to reach them.  Depending on which country they are in, will determine the type of help available.
4. Contact the country’s embassy here if necessary.
5. Always, always remain calm.  The chances of your loved one being in danger with this type of call or message is rare.  This type of scam plays on your fears for your loved one hoping you will make irrational decisions sending money to scammers.
6. Check with BBB to see if they have heard of this type of scam.