"The key to avoiding this scam is to remain calm despite the 'emergency' nature of the call and to verify the identity of the caller. Too often people are allowing themselves to get caught up in the false sense of urgency and they end up making emotional, instead of logical, decisions," said Steve J. Bernas, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Chicago and Northern Illinois.
Given the sudden pervasiveness of the scam, several state Attorneys General have issued warnings. In addition, the Canadian Anti-Fraud Call Centre is reporting a significant increase in complaints for this scam. In 2007, the Centre received 128 complaints about this type of scam; since the beginning of this year, nearly 350 complaints have been filed, and about half were filed in July and August alone.
Law enforcement officials are not certain how perpetrators are obtaining phone numbers for so many senior citizens across the U.S. However, it is believed that scammers are most likely calling random numbers until they happen to reach a senior citizen.
To protect themselves from this scam, and other scams that may use a distressed loved-one tactic, BBB is advising seniors to confirm the status of the individual by calling them directly or verifying the story with other family members before taking any further action.
BBB also advises that any request to wire money through Western Union or MoneyGram should be seen as a "red flag" and an immediate tip-off that the call may be part of a scam. Funds sent via wire transfer are hard to track once received by scammers and are usually not recoverable by law enforcement or banking officials.
For anyone victimized by this type of distressed loved-one call, BBB recommends reporting the incident immediately to local police departments and state Attorneys General offices. If there is a request to wire money to Canada, the Canadian Anti-Fraud Call Centre has established the PhoneBusters hotline and Web site to report such fraud. Reports can be filed easily online through the PhoneBusters site at: www.phonebusters.com, or by phone, toll free at, 1-888-495-8501.
For more information from BBB on common scams and advice on avoiding consumer fraud, go to www.bbb.org.