Bring on the sunshine because it’s time for spring break! Whether you’re vacationing on the beach or keeping it simple and staying home with your family, it’s supposed to be a relaxing time. But all that fun may come to a halt when a scammer tries to fool you with a spring break scam.
Travel scams and family/friend emergency scams are common this time of year for consumers planning trips and even for those who aren’t taking a break. Better Business Bureau serving the Northwest recommends staying alert when it comes to any vacation situation.
There were 42 family/friend emergency scams reported to BBB Scam Tracker throughout the Northwest. Scammers attempted to steal $42,00 and made away with an estimated $6,000.
One grandparent in Meridian, Idaho received a phone call from someone she thought was her grandson. He told her he was in jail in Hawaii and needed $4000 for a bond. He transferred the phone over to the captain of the Honolulu Detention Center to explain the whole situation in detail to her. He instructed her to purchase $4000 worth of iTunes gift cards at Best Buy and read the card numbers back to him which is what she did. The next day she called the captain and he told her to do the same thing again but with $2,000 worth of gift cards this time for court and other related fees. That day the captain said her grandson was released but not to call any other family member because her grandson wanted to tell them instead. The next day she discovered it was a scam when her real grandson called her.
The grandparent scam, also known as the stranded student scam, starts out when scammers contact seniors calling in distress. They tell them they got in a bad accident, usually somewhere out of state, and they need help. They ask the elderly person to send them money, but not to call their parents because they want to be the ones to tell them. When the grandparent asks who they’re speaking to the scammer usually says something along the lines of, “I’m your eldest grandchild!”
Some will get skeptical and ask a personal question to see if it’s really their grandchild or hang up and call their actual grandchild’s phone number or another relative to confirm their grandchild is safe. Others get nervous and follow their “grandparent instincts” and try to help their family and send money.
Relatives should follow these tips to avoid this scheme and ensure their family members are safe:
- Stay calm. Scammers want to see an emotional reaction from relatives. They intend to pull on your heartstrings to get you to transfer money quickly. Don’t fall for this. Take a few deep breaths and make sure to identify who you’re speaking with.
- Never wire money. Wiring money should be the first red flag relatives look out for. When you send money via wiring, pre-paid debit card or transferring there’s no way get it back.
- Ask a personal question. Before you make any transaction, make sure the caller is your grandchild or relative. Confirm their identity by asking a simple question that the grandchild would know instantly such as their middle name or birthday. Be careful not to reveal any personal information about either person.
- Discuss with family members. Even if the caller tells you not to contact their parents or any other family member, mention it to someone. Somehow, you’ll find out where the real grandchild is.
- Get in contact in different ways. Check your grandchild’s social media accounts. If they are excited about a vacation, chances are their millennial urges will kick in and they’ll post a picture of where they are. If they don’t post anything you could always try Facebook messaging, emailing or calling their actual cell phone number.
- Communicate. To avoid questioning this scam in the first place, make sure to have family members share their travel plans before they leave the state or country. To make sure older family members are aware of this scam, inform them on how the scam works.
With over 200 travel/vacation scams reported to BBB Scam Tracker in the Northwest, an estimated $50,00 was lost by consumers.
Whether you’re a teacher, student or anyone looking to escape for spring break, it can be tempting to purchase a great deal. BBB advises consumers planning a vacation for spring break to follow these tips:
- Use a website or company you can trust. Make sure to do your research and review business profiles and read customer reviews when picking out rentals or hotels. Check out travel agencies or search the Accredited Business Directory at bbb.org/northwest.
- Get details in writing. Confirm any reservations, costs, flights, hotel or rental reservations, cancellation policies or any other trip details in writing. This way you’ll have all your bases covered.
- Always pay with a credit card. Paying with a credit card adds additional protection if you are scammed. Other payments such as wiring money and pre-paid cards are harder to track and most of the time it’s impossible to get your money back.
- Be wary of vacation packages and deals. If you find a great deal online, remember, if a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is. Lottery/Sweepstakes scams are also very common. Watch out for phone calls, social media ads or emails telling you, “Congratulations! You have won a trip!” These are schemes to get your personal information or a couple hundred dollars, rather than actually giving you a free vacation.