Pennsylvania’s Attorney General Linda Kelly cautioned consumers in a recent news release to be wary of aggressive financial scams involving calls or electronic messages from criminals who pretend to be family members in need of assistance, especially during the holidays.
“The holiday season is a popular time for distant family members to reach out and connect with loved ones and some scam artists are trying to twist that to their advantage,” Kelly said in the news release. “A call, email or text message for help from someone claiming to be a relative in need can be used to convince potential victims to act quickly, sending money without carefully evaluating the situation.”
Kelly said the telephone scams often target older residents, with callers often claiming to be grandchildren. Internet scams typically target younger victims, often using hijacked Facebook or email accounts to solicit help from “friends.”
“The exact story told by con artists can vary, but all of these scams revolve around getting the victims to send money, typically in the form of a wire transfer,” Kelly said. “These crooks who are typically working from outside the United States understand that wire transfers can be quickly intercepted and are difficult to trace or recover.”
Kelly said the stories vary, but the most popular schemes include claims that family members have been involved in an accident while traveling and need money for car repairs or medical treatment; that loved ones have been delayed while traveling and need assistance paying for overnight lodging or alternative transportation; or that airline or train tickets have been stolen and friends or relatives need cash to purchase replacement tickets. Another popular story is a claim that a family member has been arrested in Canada, either following a traffic accident or because they were hunting or fishing without a license. The calls may include conversations with someone claiming to be a police officer, who provides instructions about wire transferring money to pay fines or court costs. Additionally, one scam involves a telephone message left by someone posing as police or hospital officials, directing victims to call a special number to receive information about a relative who has been hurt in an accident. The phone numbers are often international numbers, though they may appear to be ordinary U.S. phone numbers, resulting in expensive long-distance bills.
Consumers with questions or problems should contact the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Hotline at 1-800-441-2555 or file an online consumer complaint.
Additionally, Kelly encouraged consumers who have lost money as the result of these scams to contact their local police department and the nearest regional office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in order to file a criminal report.