Identifying a Family Member Scam

This scam involves a caller claiming to be a grandchild or close family member who’s in trouble or stranded while traveling.

Woman in blue sweater looking concerned while on the phone.

In 2022, nearly half a million American seniors were victims of fraud, each ranging from $1,000 – $1,800 in losses.  One common type of scam on seniors attempts to place their victims under stress and get them to act quickly without thinking. This scam involves a caller claiming to be a grandchild or close family member who’s in trouble or stranded while traveling. So, how does it work?

First, scammers visit social media sites, like Facebook, to collect information such as a grandchild’s name, a parent’s name, any current trips, place of work or even the town they live in. This information will help the scammer sound more convincing during the call.

The scammer will then call their victim and claim to be a grandchild or close family member. They’ll sound distressed by crying or talking quietly, which makes it difficult to hear and intentionally makes it hard for the victim to clarify if it truly is their family member’s voice. Some common claims scammers have used are that they’ve been in a car accident, are in trouble with the law or may have had travel mishaps such as missing a plane.

To help further convince the victim, the scammer then hands the phone over to another participating scammer who claims to be a law enforcement agent, a doctor or an airline attendant. If the victim is convinced, the scammer will then request money to be sent to remediate the situation.

Scammers can be very convincing and pushy, so how do you know what to look for? Here are some red flags to watch for if you receive this type of phone call:

  • Caller does not identify themselves with their full name
  • They’re distressed and are communicating with a high level of urgency
  • They may know a family member’s first name, but avoid answering questions
  • Caller will claim they’re in trouble or are traveling
  • They ask that you do not tell anyone else
  • The caller tells you that an attorney will be calling you

If you receive one of these calls, hang up and reach out directly to the grandchild or family member with the number you already have to verify their status. To help prevent information gathering, restrict the amount of information you post on social media and set your privacy settings to only allow friends you’re connected with to see your posts. Additionally, never provide account information, card information or any confidential information to anyone who calls you unexpectedly, despite who they say they are.