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Someone calls or contacts you saying they’re a family member or close friend. They say they need money to get out of trouble. Not so fast. Is there really an emergency? Is that really your family or friend calling? It could be a scammer.

Examples of Family Emergency Scams

Scammers are good at pretending to be someone that they’re not. They try to trick you into thinking a loved one is in trouble. Here’s how the scam might work:

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Here’s a real-life example of a family emergency scam:

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If you get a family emergency scam call, here’s how it might go:

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Example of a family emergency scam call

And once the scammer makes you think they’re your grandson and in trouble, they pressure you to quickly send them money. But it’s all a scam. Your family member was never in trouble. Slow down. Verify.

How Scammers Convince You

The scammer may already know a lot about you or the person they’re pretending to be. They may know your name, where you live, and other information they could have found on social media sites or by hacking a family member’s email. And sometimes they simply guess.

But they always say you have to pay right away by wiring money through a company like Western Union or MoneyGram, sending cryptocurrency, using a payment app, or by putting money on a gift card and then giving them the numbers on the back. Here are other tactics scammers use in fake emergency scams:

  • Scammers might pretend to be an “authority figure,” like a fake lawyer, police officer, or doctor working with your family member. It makes them sound more convincing, and they hope it scares you.
  • Some scammers use artificial intelligence (AI) to clone your loved one’s voice. With a short audio clip — maybe from content posted online — and a voice-cloning program, a scammer could call you and sound just like your family member. 

What do fake emergency scams have in common?

  • The scammer will say it’s urgent and that you’re the only one who can help.
  • The scammer might tell you it’s important to keep it secret. They don’t want you talking to other family members and friends and realizing it’s a scam.
  • The scammers will play with your emotions. They’re counting on you to act quickly to help your family or friend. And they’re counting on you to pay without stopping to check out whether there’s really an emergency. If you get a call like this, you can be sure this is a scam.

What To Do If You Get a Call About a Family Emergency

If someone calls or sends a message claiming to be a family member or a friend desperate for money, don’t trust the voice on the line — even if it sounds like your family member or friend. Scammers are good at faking it. Here’s what to do to verify the person’s identity:

  • Resist the pressure to react and send money immediately. Hang up — or tell the person you’ll call them right back. If you don’t feel comfortable hanging up, try asking a question only the real person would know the answer to, like “What kind of dog do you have?” or “Where did you spend Thanksgiving last year?”

  • Use a phone number you know is right to call or message the family member or friend who (supposedly) contacted you. Ask them if they’re really in trouble.

  • Call someone else in your family or circle of friends, even if the caller said to keep it a secret — or sounds like a loved one. Do that especially if you can’t reach the friend or family member who’s supposed to be in trouble. A trusted person can help you figure out whether the story is true.

If You Sent Money to a Scammer

Scammers tell you to pay in a specific way. They often insist that you can only pay in ways that make it tough to get your money back — by wiring money through a company like Western Union or MoneyGram, sending cryptocurrency, using a payment app, or by putting money on a gift card and then giving them the numbers on the back. No matter how you paid a scammer, the sooner you act, the better. Learn more about how to get your money back.

Report Fraud

If you spot a scam, report it to the FTC at ReportFraud.ftc.gov and to your state attorney general.