A family emergency can get anyone anxious. And that is exactly what fraudsters count on when they target victims for emergency scams. Elderly grandparents are particularly susceptible to these swindles, which robbed them of $9.2 million last year.
But the truth is, anyone can become a victim of emergency fraud. So, protecting yourself and your loved ones from it should be a top priority.
Emergency Scams Explained
Any parent would dread a call from their son or daughter in college in the middle of the night. It usually means one thing—an emergency. In a panic, you would pick up the phone to learn they are in trouble and need money wired urgently. They claim to have been arrested or stranded somewhere without their wallets. They sound pretty shaken, and you can sense their fear and desperation. Without thinking twice, you promptly wire money to the account they give you.
This is precisely the kind of scenario emergency scam victims experience. In fact, anyone can encounter this type of incident—not just family members. Friends, neighbors, and coworkers are all just as vulnerable.
But how can a scammer dupe you into mistaking them for a loved one? First of all, an emergency of any sort could lead to high levels of anxiety and stress, which can impair memory, cause poor judgment, and affect your ability to make decisions. When you are in a panic, you can easily make mistakes and fail to notice glaring details.
To make matters worse, advanced technological tools have made imitating individuals effortless. As a result, scammers can simulate voices, disguise their phone numbers using social engineering techniques, and deploy a variety of other methods to confuse and convince you. So, identifying emergency scams could be challenging even for someone tech-savvy.
How Can You Avoid Emergency Fraud?
Here are proven techniques for you to adopt.
Keep your emotions in check
When anxiety runs high, you are unable to concentrate and see the big picture. It is when you are most likely to overreact and make decisions you might later regret.
This is why taking control of your emotions is essential when you are faced with an emergency call from a loved one. Even if it is real, there is nothing much you can achieve by panicking and allowing fear to take over.
So, stay calm and avoid taking any hasty action.
Verify the caller
Next, you must ensure you are dealing with a legitimate call for help.
- Clarify the situation to understand what has happened. A fraudster would have a convincing story; however, they could hesitate when you start making further inquiries.
- Ask questions to which only your loved one knows the answers.
- Don’t be deceived by the phone number that appears on your screen, even if it looks familiar. Number spoofing is a common technique to imitate individuals. So, hang up and call your loved one again on the number you have saved on your phone.
- Sometimes, they may call from a number you don’t recognize and claim to have lost their phone. In instances like this, ask whose phone they are using. Then run the number on PhoneHistory to check who it belongs to.
- If you are still unsure, contact other family members and friends to find more details. Scammers would often pretend to be embarrassed by their predicament and ask you to keep their call confidential. This may sound like a legitimate request. But keep in mind that you are only trying to help. So, there is no harm in speaking to others and verifying the whereabouts of your loved one.
Never wire money
Wire transfers are hard to trace. This makes it a favored transaction method for scams. So, proceed with caution if you receive an emergency call from a loved one asking you to wire money.
However, keep in mind that cybercriminals could also hack into your loved one’s bank account. Therefore, tread with care even if you are provided with their regular account details to send money.
Protect sensitive information
When fraudsters target you for an emergency scam, they often know much more about you than you think. They would have your name and contact details and will know your relationship with the individual they are imitating. Not only that, but they will also have your loved one’s details, at least a name and phone number to mimic.
There are numerous ways scammers can get hold of all this information. For example, they could have hacked into your email account. Cybercriminals could also extract personal details from your social media activities. They will usually use multiple such methods to piece together useful information that could help them carry out a successful scam.
Therefore, safeguarding your personal and identifiable information is imperative if you want to avoid these meticulously planned frauds.
- Secure your accounts and devices with foolproof passwords and two-factor authentication.
- Practice caution when sharing updates on social media. Avoid disclosing details that could compromise the safety of you and your loved ones.
- Limit your social media network to those you know well. And think twice before accepting connection requests from strangers.
- Set your profile to private view, so only those within your network can view your posts.
- Delete online accounts you no longer use or rarely need. But before deleting, ensure you remove any information you had uploaded to them.
- Be mindful of phishing scams. These are designed to trick individuals into divulging sensitive personal information. Phishing can occur via emails, phone calls, SMSs, messaging platforms, and other mediums.
- Install a reputed virus guard on all your connected devices to prevent malware attacks.
- Set up automatic updates for your operating system and other software to ensure they are up-to-date with the latest patches to minimize vulnerabilities.
- Keep your devices safe to prevent physical theft and loss.
If you find out you have fallen victim to an emergency scam, contact the local police and notify the Federal Trade Commission. Ensure you keep evidence of all relevant communications and activities, including call records and money transfer slips.
In addition, take extra measures to secure your online accounts in case of a data breach—change email account passwords, inform your bank, and run a virus scan of your devices. And finally, remember that building awareness is critical for fighting scams, so share your experience with as many people as possible.