Tell Your Elderly Family Members About This ‘Emergency’ Scam

Tell Your Elderly Family Members About This ‘Emergency’ Scam


With uncertainty at an all-time high in America, scammers are using a wide variety of tactics to victimize innocent people. One scam to watch out for is the classic “family emergency” phone call. Although this particular scam has been around for decades, it’s still very successful.

Here’s what you need to know.

How the Scam Works

These scams all begin with a phone call or a text message. The caller claims to be a family member or a friend of the family. They claim that a loved one–typically the target’s grandchild–is in trouble. Depending on the scam, the caller might ask for bail money after being wrongfully accused of a crime. Other scammers claim to have been in an accident or trapped out of state or overseas. Some even say that they are being held hostage and need ransom money!

The script varies, but it always invents an emergency designed to frighten the elderly target. A sense of urgency as well as an appeal to our natural desire to help family, pushes the target to act fast.

You might be wondering how anyone could trick you into thinking that they are a family member. Scammers will search social media to find personal details, such as family nicknames and descriptions. They can also use information from a phishing scam or hacked email to make themselves sound more convincing.

How to Avoid Getting Scammed by a Fake Emergency

If you’ve been a subscriber here for a while, then you know that scammers rely on high-pressure tactics. They don’t give you enough time to think things through. If your grandchild called panicked and crying, of course you’d want to help as quickly as possible. However, taking ten minutes to verify that there really is an emergency can save you hundreds or thousands of dollars.

The Federal Trade Commission recommends that you take the following steps before sending money.

  • Verify the caller’s identity–ask them personal questions only your real family would know.
  • Call the person back from the number you have saved on your phone.
  • Call someone else in your family to see if the story is true. The scammer may ask you not to tell anyone, but that’s just a trick.

Above all, don’t send money by wire transfer, money order, or prepaid gift card. Those are the preferred methods of payment for scammers since they are very difficult to trace.