When he answered the phone on a recent morning and heard, “Hi, Grandpa, it’s Ryan,” on the other end of the line, the voice sounded right enough to convince Noel Sunderland that his grandson was calling.
The conversation started innocently enough with talk of family and life.
Then the caller wove a tale of trouble that would persuade many family members to rush to the rescue: He said he had been in a drunken driving wreck in another state, got hurt and needed $1,450 to keep the mishap off his record. An attorney was available to take the payment right away and would work out the legal details.
“He had all the mannerisms and everything that my grandson has,” Sunderland, 81, of Wichita, Kansas, said of the caller, remembering the exchange. “At first it was convincing.”
Authorities say that’s the goal of the people who carry out such ruses, known as grandparent or family emergency scams. They aren’t new, but targets are constantly falling for them.
“It happens all the time,” Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett said recently. “A breathtaking amount of money is lost.”
They’re convincing, authorities say, because quick-talking scammers who pose as family members or friends have urgent pleas that tug on the heartstrings. Sometimes they ask for bail money or say they’re stranded or hurt and need cash fast.
Bennett said people who get these types of calls should avoid saying their grandchild or loved one’s name to the caller and not talk about anything personal.
“The trick is to hang up. … Don’t talk to them. These are never legitimate,” he said.
Luckily, Sunderland didn’t end up losing any money to his caller.
He caught on when the man’s voice momentarily slipped, revealing an accent. So he asked his wife to quickly dial his grandson’s number from another phone to confirm that he was safe and at home with his family.
The grandson was.
“I gave that information to the man I was talking to, and he immediately hung up,” Sunderland said.
Tips for verifying emergency calls
If someone calls or sends a message claiming to be a family member or a friend desperate for money, here’s what the Federal Trade Commission suggests you do:
— Resist the urge to act immediately, no matter how dramatic the story is.
— Verify the person’s identity by asking questions that a stranger couldn’t possibly answer.
— Call a phone number for your family member or friend that you know to be genuine.
— Check the story out with someone else in your family or circle of friends, even if you’ve been told to keep it a secret.
— Don’t wire money or send a check or money order by overnight delivery or courier.
— Report possible fraud at ftc.gov/complaint or by calling 877-FTC-HELP.
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