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Instead of telling you a ghost story around a summer campfire, we have an all-too familiar tale to share: Myra’s grandson, Jon, is in Mexico for the summer. They video chat every week. One day, Myra gets a call from someone who says he’s Max, a friend of Jon’s: “He was arrested last night and needs $500 for bail.” Max says the police took Jon’s passport, so he’ll need another $700 to get it back. He says not to tell Jon’s parents or anyone else because Jon is embarrassed.

Myra is scared at first — but she’s heard a thing or two that makes her suspicious. So she thanks “Max” for his concern, hangs up, and calls Jon right away. Jon, it turns out, is on his way to class, not in jail. And “Max” is nothing but a scammer.

Family emergency scams like this try to scare people into sending money to help a loved one in trouble. The fraud can play out in many ways, but the hustle is the same: the caller lies, tries to scare you, and rushes you to pay so you don’t have time to think twice or check things out before you send money. And once you do that, you’ll never get it back.

To avoid family emergency scams:

  • Resist the urge to act immediately — no matter how dramatic the story is.
  • Call or message your loved one who (supposedly) contacted you. Even though the caller says not to. But use a number you know is right, not one the caller gives you.
  • Never send cash, gift cards, cryptocurrency, or money transfers. Once the scammer gets the money, it’s gone!

If you spot this or any other scam, report it to the FTC at ReportFraud.ftc.gov.

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4 Comments


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The purpose of this blog and its comments section is to inform readers about Federal Trade Commission activity, and share information to help them avoid, report, and recover from fraud, scams, and bad business practices. Your thoughts, ideas, and concerns are welcome, and we encourage comments. But keep in mind, this is a moderated blog. We review all comments before they are posted, and we won’t post comments that don’t comply with our commenting policy. We expect commenters to treat each other and the blog writers with respect.

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  • We won’t post threats, defamatory statements, or suggestions or encouragement of illegal activity.
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AlphaMale
June 17, 2021
I have had this call several times. I usually ask a few questions then it's time to hang up. A few funny things have happened with this scam. The party speaks with a foreign accent who is supposed to be my grandson, usually a dead giveaway. When they say he is in another Country I usually say, just a minute, let me ask him. The ones that are difficult to tell are always early in the AM and I know he is at work.
CODE WORD
June 17, 2021
HOW BOUT GIVING A CODE WORD TO ALL FAMILY MEMBERS, AND IF THE CALLER CANT SAY IT FOR YOU--SOMETHING IS WRONG INVESTIGATE FURTHER!
kikipeanut
June 18, 2021
Thank you for letting the public know not to move to fast, check it out please. I was breached, ID taken and as FTC said "welcome to real ID theft" my nightmare started 6 months ago. Please give your name and follow what they say, it works. BE CALM, I was so rattled, take time to think it through. FTC has been my outlet, they knew what I was going through before I did, I thought I lost my mind. These men and women work hard for and with us to fight for all of us. Be safe and God Bless.
MONTANA girl
August 05, 2021
Has anyone met a guy named Raymond Bell on OurTime? He claims to be working in Canada and needs money.