Law Enforcement Warns of Rise in "Relative in Distress" Scams

The scam artists impersonate family members in trouble or danger.

Los Angeles County residents are being warned of an increase in the number of reports by victims of telephone scams where a caller impersonates a family member in distress.

According to law enforcement, the scam goes like this: the victim is contacted by an individual claiming to be a relative in some sort of distress. They ask the victim for money, which is wired to an address, often overseas. Sometimes, a third party is introduced as an Embassy official or lawyer or police officer, urging the victim to help their “relative” in trouble. 

Victims have told law enforcement that oftentimes the scammer tells them to not tell other family members as they don’t want to be embarrassed, but actually it is so the victim won't be talked out of sending the money. 

During a recent press conference, three Los Angeles residents told their stories of being scammed. Between the three of them, they wired more than $30,000 to Lebanon, Spain, Italy, Canada, Peru, the Dominican Republic, and other foreign countries. Two of those victims were told by the scam artists that they were their family members that were serving in the U.S. military.

The FBI suggests that citizens be suspicious of any offer that sounds too good to be true, and to research any offers that are received on the phone or the Internet.  If someone calls and asks for money in advance of winning a prize, hang up. Do not give out personal information, such as date of birth, credit card numbers, and social security numbers, in response to solicitation. Before making any major monetary decisions, consult family, friends, and trusted advisors.

If you have fallen victim to a relative in distress scam, contact the Internet Crime Complaint Center

According to the FBI, here are some common scams: 

Foreign Lotteries and Sweepstakes: Victims are told that they have won a lottery or sweepstakes in a foreign drawing, and to collect the winnings, they must first pay taxes and fees. The checks appear to be authentic, and in some cases, it may take the bank several days to determine that the check is fraudulent.  

Money Transfer Scams: Victims are asked to help illegally transfer funds out of Nigeria or other countries in return for a share of the money. Victims are asked to provide their bank account information or pay money up front to complete the transaction. 

Credit and Loan Scams: Victims with poor or non-existent credit are offered credit cards, loans or credit improvement services for an advance fee. 

Mystery Shopper Scams: Victims find a letter in the mail telling them they have been chosen to work as a “mystery shopper.” Inside of the letter there is a check, and the victim is told to take the check to the bank, deposit it, and then use the funds to evaluate money transfer services. The bank eventually determines that the check is a fake, and the victim becomes responsible for the money spent.

Overpayment Scams: Victims who advertise an item for sale are sent a counterfeit check or money order from a “buyer” for more than the cost of the item, and the victim is then held responsible by his or her financial institution when the payment is discovered to be fake. 

Charity Scams: Victims are asked to give donations to non-existent or fraudulent charities. 

Counterfeit Checks: Victims receive counterfeit checks which contain real bank account and routing numbers of companies, which criminal groups may send to thousands of U.S. residents in furtherance of a fraud. 




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