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Fake Emergency Calls from Loved Ones


Receiving a phone call from a member of your family or a close friend when they are in a dangerous situation or trouble can be a stressful time. Instincts will want you to act quickly to alleviate their issue and ensure they are safe as soon as possible. Trying to remain calm will be difficult, but it's important to stay as level-headed as possible during these moments. Being level-headed and taking the time to process and understand the situation will be safer for all parties involved, because hurried decisions can lead to more problems. Scammers are also hoping you'll be so hurried and panicked that you won't notice they aren't really who they claim to be.

It's terrible to think that scammers could take advantage of people in this way, but the families targeted for these scams, on average, lose $11,000. Scammers always want their targets to act quickly and will use langauge to try and ensure the person they are talking to won't take any additional steps that could disprove their scheme. It's also terrible to think that you may have to place doubt onto a loved one during their time of need, because of being cautious. However, in both instances it's crucial to verify facts and proceed with caution.

Before The Call Happens

When dealing with scammers that prey on families, the best solution is to talk to your loved ones about these scams before they happen. Ensure they know that you will assist them in whatever they need in times of emergency, but that questions may be asked in order to ensure they have all the details and are sure that it is really their family member on the other side of the phone. While these scams might not be as common as others, it is still good to be prepared and aware of them. 

Developing a family safe word or a question that only that person may know the answer to can be a quick and easy way to determine if the call is real or not. Selecting a word or phrase should ensure that it is easy to remember, not easily guessed, and not based on something you saw in a movie or TV Show. While asking about a pet or specific relative seems simple enough, scammers watch the same things you do and maybe recognize this and be able to guess the answers or words easier.

Explain how any monetary assistence will be sent to them and ensure you have set-up safe ways to send your family and friends emergency money. Whether you share access to a joint account and can transfer funds into it, know their Venmo, CashApp, or Paypal information, or can come to the person to offer assistance - ensure the methods are secure and trackable.

If the Call Happens

If you receive a call from someone claiming to be a family member or friend here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Keep calm and level-headed. If this is a scam, you need to be able to determine that quickly. If this is not a scam, you need to be able to provide assistance to your loved one without elevating their current state of stress.
  • Scammers can spoof phone numbers easily. They can find phone numbers of family members and make it appear as if the call is coming from that person's number. Do not rely on Caller ID to verify identity.
  • Remember anything discussed with family members or friends about these types of calls. Ask any questions that have safe-words as their response. Your family and friends should be aware of this need to verify their identity and should not be alarmed or upset that you are doing so.
  • Reach out to your family member or friend directly or through another close contact. Text messages can usually be sent while still on the phone with someone, so this could be the quickest way to ensure the real person is safe. Hanging up and calling the person directly should also be an option that doesn't alarm the person.
  • Never send money via wire transfer or purchase gift cards to alleviate any problems that require payment. This is just like cash and will be difficult to recover. 
  • Do not allow yourself to be transferred to another person or require you to contact a 3rd party. This is a common tactic that scammers will use in these cases. They want to get you off the phone with who they are pretending to be as fast as possible, to avoid you discerning that they are not who they claim to be.
  • As with most other scams, asking yourself if this call or behavior is out of the ordinary. If this is how conversations with this person normally go or if this seems unusual. If they are getting frustrated or try to escalate your level of stress or concern - determine if this is how a reasonable person would react.
  • Social Media can provide scammers with personal information, photos for specifics about the person they are posing as or others, and in some instances videos that can provide voice samples which scammers can easily adopt into AI technology to replicate a voice. This can make calls more believable, because they will either sound like the person or be able to make claims about other things learned through social media.

Scams like this can seem extreme and being over-prepared for it might seem like too much, but even if this scam does not happen to you, there is nothing wrong with being prepared. By being prepared you can ensure everyone you care about can get the help they need, when they really do need it. 

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