Spring Break Scams Target Grandparents & Travelers

Spring Break Sign Means Go On Leave And BeachBring 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.

Grandparent Scams

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.

Travel Scams

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.

Confessions of an Online Fashion Scam

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By Jade Garcia, PR Coordinator

You’re browsing Facebook and see an ad on the side of the screen with the shoes you’ve had your eye on for a while. You glance at it because it’s just an ad. But then you do a double take because the website is selling it for a lot less than other retailers! You get so excited about the deal that you decide to put two pairs into your shopping cart and click the checkout button and enter your debit card to purchase them both.

The next day you check your email to see if your purchase has shipped, but you never received a confirmation email. Back on the website you find a phone number. When you try calling, it rings and leads you to a voicemail. Next you check your bank account to see if they charged you for the shoes. Instead there’s a random transaction from a company you have never heard of before. What’s going on?

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This is just a scenario of what could happen to you when you run into an online purchase scam.

Consumer Experience

A consumer reported to Better Business Bureau serving the Northwest that she experienced a similar scam on sportsfanatic.co.

“I first saw their posts on Facebook ads- which now I know that should’ve been a sign,” she said.

She adds that she went to the Sports Fanatic website and saw the BBB shield, but never clicked on it to see a review.

When a couple weeks passed with no confirmation email and no package arriving with her sweatshirt, she tried looking up their phone number. She didn’t see one on their website so she emailed support@sportsfanatic.co. When she never received a call or email back she looked at her bank account and noticed a fraudulent charge listed as Summit View LLC.

Luckily, this consumer reported the incident to the BBB Scam Tracker and her bank. Through her bank, she was able to get her money back and change bank accounts so this business couldn’t charge her again. By reporting this scam to Scam Tracker, she warns other consumers to look out for these online shopping scams.

 

To dodge these scams, BBB warns to look out for the following red flags:

Spot Look-alike Sellers

 Watch out for URLs that use the names of well-known brands along with extra words or letters. It’s easy for scammers to mimic a famous retailer’s website. Even the confirmation email can be deceiving and seem legitimate. Check out retailers at bbb.org before you shop.

Look for the BBB Seal.

Some websites are misusing the BBB seal. To check if a company is truly accredited click on the blue BBB torch icon and you should be redirected to bbb.org to view the company’s business review. If not, it’s likely a fake.

Advertisement on Social Media

Forty percent of the scams reported to BBB Northwest were advertised on social media or used it as a means of contact. Remember, anyone can create a Facebook, Instagram or Twitter account. Check to see if the social media accounts have links to websites to make sure the business is legitimate.

Security Settings.

If the site is secure there should be an “s” in “https://” and a lock icon in the address bar on the purchase or shopping cart page.

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Still not sure if the site is a scam or not? Before checking out and typing in a form of payment, make sure to follow these tips:

Unusual Forms of Payment.

Be wary of anyone who asks you to pay for purchases using prepaid debit cards, gift cards, wire transfers, third parties, etc. These payments cannot be traced and cannot be undone.

Declined Card at Purchase.

Multiple consumers have reported to BBB that when they make a purchase on the site, their card claims to be declined and within hours their cards are charged several times.

Be Wary of Signing Up for an Account.

Some websites require credit card information when creating an account. By creating an account and providing personal information, it may mean signing up for an unknown subscription, charge or for scammers to hack your card information.

To find out more about scams or to report one go to BBB Scam Tracker.