Better Business Bureau warns of ’emergency’ phone scam targeting military families

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Reports of  an “emergency” scam, which targets the relatives of military service members, is being tracked by the Better Business Bureau’s Scam Tracker, the agency announced Friday.

How the Scam Works

A relative, usually a grandparent or aunt or uncle, receives a call from their “niece,” “nephew” or “grandchild.” There has been an emergency, and the “grandchild” needs money quickly. The stories vary, but they often involve an arrest or car accident.

One version of this scam is specifically targeting the relatives of servicemen and women.

“People called my grandparents with knowledge of me being in the military and told them I was in a car wreck on the way to an Army buddies’ funeral,” said one Scam Tracker report. The scammer then asked for $2,500 to pay for car repairs. Typically, the scammer will tell the “grandparent” not tell the rest of the family about the emergency.  Instead, they should send money by wire or prepaid debit cards.

In some cases, the relative is also contacted by a supposed member of the military or attorney, who offers to “help out.” Scammers also often use details from social media to make their stories more convincing.

How to Avoid Military Grandparent Scams

  • Don’t act hastily. Resist the pressure to send money right away, even if the story sounds very urgent.
  • Be extra cautious when wiring money or using a pre-paid debit card. Once you’ve used these forms of payment, there is no way to get the money back.
  • Check out the story. If you are unsure the person calling is really your relative, ask him or her questions that only your relative could answer. After you hang up, contact your grandchild or other family members to make sure the call is legitimate before taking action. If necessary, use military or other channels to confirm the story.
  • Check BBB Tips: Many email scams use similar techniques. Be sure to review the tips found on bbb.org/emergencyscam