2/27 UPDATE: The holidays have come and gone, but savvy scammers never stop shopping for your personal information and celebrating their ill-gotten gains. No matter the time of year, the information in this blog post remains relevant and valuable.
For many of us, the holidays are a time to celebrate with friends and families, and to hop online (and on foot) in search of that elusive, perfect gift. The less scrupulous among us are shopping, too – but they’re on the hunt for our personal information and cash.
The holidays’ unique combination of hustle-bustle and stress with warm, charitable feelings makes us prime targets for these scammers, who view us as distracted, easy marks.
Family or fraudster?
One particularly insidious con is a type of “imposter scam” – specifically, a subset referred to as the “family emergency scam”.
Often targeted toward the elderly, it typically begins with a frantic phone call from someone claiming to be the victim’s “favorite grandson” or other family member. The scammers might have done their homework on the victim’s family, providing specific names and details – many of us share this information freely online. They might also be vague, hoping to coax their victims into providing those particulars.
In either event, the perpetrator posing as the relative claims to be in serious trouble – they might say that they are in jail or have just been in a serious car accident. Perhaps they claim to be stranded out of the state or country. Whatever tragic scenario they spin, there’s always the desperate request for money to be wired.
And once that money is wired, it’s difficult to trace.
In a high-tech world, it’s a decidedly low-tech scam. It’s also surprisingly effective. So, how can you protect yourself?
What you can do
Being aware and prepared goes a long way. If you receive such a call, these actions can help:
- Request the caller’s information and verify it (and the situation they describe) with other family members before sending any funds.
- Deal directly with the party that will be receiving the money. For example, if an alleged relative contacts you requesting money for an auto repair, deal directly with the auto shop instead of wiring the money to the person requesting it.
- Never offer any personal information. If the caller claims to be a friend of your “favorite granddaughter,” don’t reply, “Becky?” … make the caller provide that information to you.
- Don’t trust Caller ID – it can be faked.
Many scams, one goal
Imposter scams were the most-reported complaint to the FTC in 2018, and there are many types – con artists might say they’re from the Social Security Administration or the IRS. They might claim to be a computer technician from your Internet service provider. They might even claim to be from your credit union.
Whomever they claim to be, they are always looking to steal your money or personal information. Never give it to them (Velocity, for example, will never contact you requesting personal or account information; we may ask you for some such information if you contact us). Instead, call the organization back directly – do your own research online or ask a trusted friend or relative for help. Don’t call any numbers provided by the callers or other people you don’t know.
Alert friends and family members who might be vulnerable to imposter scams of their existence, and if you are targeted, report the scam to the Federal Trade Commission at http://www.ftc.gov/complaint, or call 877.FTC.HELP (382-4357).
Get more information about how to protect yourself from scammers here.