Crooks use clever schemes to defraud millions of people every year. They often combine sophisticated technology with age-old tricks to get people to send money or give out personal information. They add new twists to old schemes and pressure people to make important decisions on the spot. One thing that never changes: they follow the headlines — and the money.
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One of my favorite parts about working at the Federal Trade Commission is hearing stories of folks avoiding a scam. A recent story involves Lou, who picked up the phone and spotted the scam almost as soon as he heard the young man call him “Grandpa.” The caller said he’d been arrested for drunk driving, needed money for bail, and wanted Lou to call a “lawyer” who would explain everything. (All while not telling “Mom.”)
“I played along with it,” said Lou, 87, who was curious to hear the scammer’s pitch. But Lou also called his daughter, a consumer lawyer. She knew this scam — someone pretends to be a friend or family member in need of money for bail, a medical emergency, or other trouble. His grandson was fine.
The scammers used common tricks.
- They tested Lou to see how much money they could get. They first claimed bail was $7,000, but when Lou said he only had half that amount, the fake lawyer said he could get the bail reduced. Usually, scammers ask you to wire the money or get a prepaid card and give them the numbers on the card. If you do, your money will be gone.
- They tried to keep Lou from talking to anyone. They even told Lou he could be arrested and fined if he told anyone about their conversation. Why? Scammers don’t want you talking to anyone else. They want you to act fast, without thinking too carefully.
- The scammers used information Lou gave them to make their story seem more real. For example, the fake grandson told Lou the accident occurred “in the city.” When Lou named the District of Columbia, the fake grandson said, “Yes. In D.C.” Scammers also get information from social networking sites, or by hacking a loved one’s email account.
If you get a call like this, get off the phone and check it out. Call your loved one using a phone number you know is theirs, or call another family member. Then, tell a friend your story. By talking about this scam, you can help someone else avoid it. And please, tell us too.