Scam: Impersonator pretends to be a relative in urgent need of money.
Examples: [Collected via e-mail, April 2006]
(My husband initially was getting ready to go to WalMart before I caught up with him. What if I hadn't been home?) I reported this incident to the consumer fraud hotline.
[Collected via e-mail, June 2010]
I'm writing this with tears in my eyes, my family and I came down here to London, England for a short vacation unfortunately we were mugged at the park of the hotel where we stayed, all cash, credit card and cell were stolen off us but luckily for us we still have our passports with us.
We've been to the embassy and the Police here but they're not helping issues at all and our flight leaves in less than 3hrs from now but we're having problems settling the hotel bills and the hotel manager won't let us leave until we settle the bills.
Am freaked out at the moment. I Need Your Help Urgently..
Origins: Some scammers exploit the avarice of people looking to get something for nothing, some take advantage of honest people who are simply trying to conduct straightforward business transactions, and some — perhaps the worst of all — victimize people who are motivated only by a good-hearted desire to help out those in need.
The scheme described above falls into that last category. The basic set-up is that a scam artist gleans just enough information about a family (e.g., names, ages, addresses, phone numbers) to be able to impersonate one of them during a brief phone call to another family member. The scammer will place a call and claim to be in some form of distress (e.g., a victim of legal problems, theft, or
Such con artists use a variety of avenues through which they make contact — while some telephone their intended victims, others send
If you should receive such a call, text message, or
Another approach to use if you can't reach other relatives right away is the one employed in the example quoted above: Ask the caller a question that an impersonator would be unable to answer. Be careful to pose a question that requires more than knowledge of basic family information (e.g., names, birthdates, addresses), because that information is too easy for outsiders to look up — instead, ask about something like a detail of a family event that someone who was not present would be extremely unlikely to know about.
In general, pleas for money from people with whom you have only casual or infrequent contact should be handled with Ronald Reagan's signature phrase in mind: "Trust, but verify."
Last updated: 3 August 2014