April 4, 2013
In these types of scams, the perpetrator often calls a grandparent or other relative pretending to be his/her grandchild/niece/nephew, etc. The caller sounds upset and typically states there are only a few moments to talk. Callers may say that they have a cold if you don't quite recognize their voice, or cue-in on feedback from the call to sound even more convincing (scam victims often report being sure they were talking to their actual relative, but it's a clever trick!). Their story generally follows a familiar line: they were traveling in another country with a friend, and after a car accident or legal infraction, they are in jail and need bail money wired to a Western Union account as soon as possible for their quick release.
Sums can vary from several hundred to several thousand dollars, sometimes over the course of two or three calls. In some instances, a second scammer calls back later pretending to be a law enforcement official or attorney, to confirm the story or ask for additional money. They may even claim to be employees of a U.S. embassy or consulate overseas!
Should you be targeted in this type of scam, there are actions you can take to protect yourself. Although the supposed grandchild may plead with you not to tell his/her family, you should immediately reach out to parents or other relatives to verify the information you receive. In the vast majority of cases, the real relative is safely where (s)he should be - at work, school or home.
Another way to determine whether the story is true is to look at the country code or area code of the number the scammers are calling from. A quick check online can confirm if the country or area code is appropriate to the story. For example, we have noticed many of these sophisticated scams originate in Quebec, Canada, which has the area code "914". If your caller has a number beginning with 914, there is a good chance the call is a scam.
When in doubt, and BEFORE YOU SEND ANY MONEY, contact the State Department's Office of Overseas Citizens Services (OCS) at 1-888-407-4747. We will help you verify whether the situation is legitimate or a scam!
You can also report the incident to the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) - a partnership between the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the National White Collar Crime Center (NW3C). IC3 was established to receive internet related criminal complaints and to research, develop, and refer complaints to federal, state, local, or international law enforcement if appropriate.