BBB Tip: Emergency Scams

  
     
In the friend or grandparent scam, scammers impersonate friends or family members to trick worried people into wiring money to help with a fake emergency.

man with suitcase and phoneEmergency scams (sometimes called grandparent scams) prey on your willingness to help friends and family in need. Scammers impersonate their targets’ loved ones, make up an urgent situation, and plead for help… and money. Thanks to social media sites, scammers can offer plausible stories and incorporate nicknames and real travel plans into the con to convince their targets.

How the Scam Works:

Emergency scams are about a family member or friend in a dire situation. You get a call, email, or social media message from someone claiming to be a family member in distress. They may say they’ve been arrested while traveling overseas, or there was an accident, medical emergency, or other calamity. They provide convincing details, such as family names, school details, etc.

A common version is the “grandparent scam,” where the con artist contacts a grandparent claiming to be their grandchild and asking for money. The plea is so persuasive that the grandparent wires money to the scammer, only to find out later their family member was safe and sound all along. This scam can also work in reverse where the ‘grandparent’ calls their grandchild pleading for help.

Tips to Spot This Scam: 

  • Resist the urge to act immediately, no matter how dramatic the story is. Check out the story with other family and friends, but call directly. Don’t call the phone number provided by the caller or caller ID. Ask questions that would be hard for an impostor to answer correctly. 
  • Know what your family members are sharing online. You may not have control over your family's social media accounts, but familiarize yourself with what they are sharing online.

To report a scam, go to BBB Scam Tracker.

To learn how to protect yourself, go to “10 Steps to Avoid Scams”.

Last Reviewed: March 6, 2017