COLUMBUS — Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine last week warned Ohioans to beware of family emergency scams. Several Ohioans have reported losing thousands of dollars to the scam in recent weeks.
In the scam, con artists pose as relatives or friends and claim they need money right away to help with an emergency, such as getting out of jail or paying attorney fees after getting into a car accident. The most common version of the scam is the “grandparent scam,” which targets grandparents, but the scam also can affect parents, aunts, uncles, and family friends, among others.
“This is a horrible scam,” Attorney General DeWine said. “Con artists prey on people’s worst fears that something bad has happened to a loved one. They try to scare people into sending money right away. Once they get your money, they’re gone and the money’s gone.”
Since November, the Ohio Attorney General’s Office has received more than 20 complaints about the scam. The average reported loss was over $6,000.
In a typical variation of the scam, a grandparent receives a call claiming that a grandchild was in a car accident or found with drugs and needs money to cover bail or attorney fees. The grandparent is told to go the store, buy a gift card, and provide the card numbers over the phone, which allows the scammer to drain the card’s funds. In another variation of the scam, parents receive a call claiming their son or daughter has been kidnapped and is being held hostage. They are told to pay ransom to allow their child to return home safely.
Scammers generally tell their targets to pay using wire transfers, money orders, or gift cards. In some cases, after victims buy gift cards and provide the card numbers over the phone, they are told to mail the (drained) cards somewhere else. This makes it harder to report or stop the scam.
Tips to prevent family emergency scams include:
• Communicate with your family members. Talk to your family about scams and discuss how you would communicate during a true emergency.
• Verify a caller’s claims. If you receive a call about a family member in trouble, contact someone else, such as the person’s parents, to determine the person’s location and whether the person truly needs your help. Be wary if the caller asks you not to contact any other family members. This is a tactic used by scammers. When in doubt, ask questions only your real family members would know how to answer, such as the last time you saw each other.
• Limit sharing information online. Don’t post upcoming travel plans or detailed personal information online, and encourage your family members to take similar precautions. Scammers may use information available online to learn more about their targets and to make their ploys seem more believable. Check your account privacy settings on social media and limit who can view your information.
• Be wary of specific payment requests. If someone tells you that you must pay using a gift card, prepaid reloadable card, money transfer, or cash, it may be a scam. These payment methods are difficult to trace and are used regularly in scams. Once the money is sent, it is very difficult to recover.
The Ohio Attorney General’s Office warns consumers about scams and offers a variety of educational materials, including a phone scams checklist. To learn more or to report scams to the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, visit www.OhioProtects.org or call 800-282-0515.