How to avoid spring break 'Grandparents Scam'

Ruth to the Rescue takes closer look at 'Grandparents Scam' as young adults get ready for spring break trips

With spring break season reaching its peak, it could be the perfect time for scam artists to target members of your family.

This is the season when many young adults go on vacation by themselves, giving scam artists a perfect opening to pull what's commonly called the "Grandparent Scam."

When our Ruth to the Rescue unit started asking people about the "Grandparents Scam" it didn't take long to find someone whose family had been affected.

"A gentleman called my grandma saying that it was my cousin, when really it wasn't, asking for money saying he was in jail," said Sydney Southway, of St. Clair Shores.

Luckily, her 89-year-old grandmother didn't fall for the trick. She called her children to make sure her grandson was safe.

"We've like made everyone aware that that could happen because it did seem so legit," Southway said.

Mary Beaudette, of Clinton Township, worries not enough people know how to protect themselves.

"I think it's awful because not every senior is, how can I say this delicately, knowledgeable, or aware of what's going on," Beaudette said.

How to protect your family from the scam

Melanie Duquesnel, of the local Better Business Bureau, says the scam could take many forms. She says the caller may claim he/she is in jail, needs money for a hotel or has been in an accident -- whatever will pull at the target's heart strings the most.

She says it only makes sense that scammers might try this trick during spring break.

"If the child is gone, usually without parents, especially when they're traveling to places like Mexico," she said.

To protect your family she suggests you tell everyone in the family (grandparents, aunts and uncles) where your children actually are going on spring break. Then, family members can be prepared if they get one of those suspicious calls.

"If they say, well your son is in such and such a place- and you go, 'I'm sorry you're wrong!' click!'" she said.

To further protect your family, establish questions to ask the caller so you can spot an impostor.

"You know, maybe, 'When did you know about your first tooth in baseball?' or something so obscure that most people wouldn't know," she offered as one defense against scammers.

Posting spring break photos carefully

Duquesnel also says teenagers should be careful with what they share on social media. Posting spring break photos could tip off a scam artist that the teenager is out of the country and give the scam artists a heads up that the family at home might be vulnerable to a call for help.

Plus, the scammers can look at your profile information and try to learn more about you, which might help convince the targets they are your grandchild.

"Hackers, identity thieves and scam artists are preying on all that data that is on a Facebook, or on a Instagram or Pinterest," Duquesnel said.

She also urges everyone to check their social media settings. Make sure you, and your children, are not oversharing personal information that might be used against someone you love in a scam someday.

Coping with the call

Here's a quick rundown of how to cope with a call for help that you might think is fraudulent.

1) Ask yourself, do you have any reason to believe that a relative might actually be out of the country, or in a perilous position? If not, hang up!
2) If you are concerned, remember the questions you've established with your family to confirm the identity of the caller. If they cannot answer those pre-determined questions, hang up!
3) If you are starting to believe it's really one of your relatives in need, ask for a number to call back to verify. Try to call local police, the hotel, or the hospital.
4) At all costs, try to avoid immediately wiring money anywhere. The Better Business Bureau says the money is very rarely going where you think it's going.
5) Know how to reach your adult children to check with them about the status of your grandchildren. Talk with family members of all ages about what the best protocol is during any family emergency, so there are no miscommunications for scam artists to exploit.

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