‘Loved one in distress’ scams on the rise

Scams that feed off of the trusting nature of a family member are nothing new but their prevalence is rapidly increasing, and the Greenwich Police Department has several tips to avoid becoming a victim of “loved one in distress” fraud.

According to police, in a recent instance of this type of scam, a Greenwich resident and native Spanish speaker received a text from an unknown number originating in Puerto Rico. The text message stated that her adult son had been involved in a serious motor vehicle accident and was in need of help. When she responded to the text she spoke with a man in Spanish who related that the victim’s son had not been in an accident but had been kidnapped by escaped convicts. He then demanded a ransom and threatened to kill the victim’s son if she called the police.

Unfortunately, through a set of ill-fated coincidences, the victim was unable to immediately contact her son. It took several gutwrenching hours before the police could verify that the son was fine, that the message was a complete falsehood and that no money had been sent, police said.

Thieves of this kind are preying and relying upon a victim’s compassion and trustworthiness. The Greenwich Police Department and other police departments within the state frequently investigate complaints very similar to this scam. Each incident includes some sort of combination of the following: a loved one is in danger or in a hospital or under arrest; the incident occurred overseas or where the subject attends school or where they had been on vacation; the money needs to be wired immediately so assistance can be given; the callback numbers given to the victim originate out of the country and, in this instance, the scammers include the threat of violence.

If an individual receives a call or text similar to this incident, don’t send any money, police said. It is a scam and the money will never be seen again. The individual should initiate a call to the loved one directly. Additionally, residents should be mindful that any call or letter stating that action needs to be taken immediately, or directing them to go to a certain location to wire the money, is fraudulent. These are all red flags that residents should be wary of.

A short list of ways to protect yourself against these scams include not responding to text messages or missed calls that come from numbers that are unrecognized, avoiding providing personal, credit card or online account details over the phone unless you made the call and the phone number came from a trusted source, not opening suspicious or unsolicited emails, not clicking on any links in a spam email or opening any files attached to them, and never replying to a spam email or text message, even to unsubscribe.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) investigates and catalogues national scam trends. Their website provides useful information and is available in Spanish. It is an excellent resource to educate yourself about scams, computer crimes and identity theft. Visit the site at consumer.ftc.gov/scam-alerts.


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