Spring Break a popular time for revival of classic scam

WIKIMEDIA COMMONS/Courtesy

WIKIMEDIA COMMONS/Courtesy

KINGMAN - Whether they listen or not, it's always a good idea to tell students to be careful if they're traveling for spring break.

But their relatives must exercise some caution as well, because spring break's arrival always brings with it a resurgence of a popular scam that often targets grandparents.

"Like clockwork this time of year, we hear about local residents who receive fraudulent phone calls from individuals pretending to be their grandchild," said Matthew Fehling, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau.

"Unfortunately, with the popularity of social media and students sharing their travel plans and posting pictures, the calls can be very convincing."

Although known as the "grandparent scam," other family members can be targeted by the scheme.

Typically, the grandparent receives a frantic phone call and is led to believe it is their grandchild away for spring break. A scammer posing as their grandchild explains that he or she is in trouble - often in Mexico or Canada - and needs help.

The "grandchild" might claim he or she caused a car accident or is in trouble with the law and requires money to be wired immediately.

Calls to BBB indicate someone claiming to be a police officer or lawyer representing the grandchild in court may also contact victims.

In either case, the "grandchild" pleads with the grandparent not to tell his or her parents and asks that they wire thousands of dollars for various reasons: posting bail, repairing the grandchild's car, covering lawyer's fees, or even paying hospital bills for a person the grandchild injured in a car accident.

In a recent case in Tucson, scammers requested the grandparent purchase iTune gift cards as payment - and took the man for $15,000.

BBB offers the following tips to avoid the "grandparent scam" this spring break:

• Students should share spring break travel plans with family members before leaving the state or country.

• Students should provide the cell phone number and/or email address of a friend traveling with them in case of emergency.

• Family members should remind students to be cautious when sharing details about travel plans on social media.

• If grandparents or relatives receive a phone call from someone claiming to be their grandchild in distress, they should not disclose any information before confirming the person's identity. Ask a personal question about their childhood only close family would know.

BBB recommends victims of the "grandparent" scam report the incident to local police immediately. Scams can also be reported to BBB's Scam Tracker at bbb.org/scamtracker.

If there is a request to wire money to Canada, the Canadian Anti-Fraud Call Centre has established the Phone Busters hotline and website to report such fraud.

Reports can be filed easily online through the Phone Busters site at phonebusters.com, or by phone at 1-888-495-8501.