Relative-in-trouble scam making a comeback as traveling returns

Investigators

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – An insidious scam that preys on your emotions to help a relative in trouble is making a comeback according to law enforcement officials.

The scam died out during the height of the pandemic because people were quarantined and had limited ability to travel, but with people on the move again, the relative-in-trouble scam has seen a resurgence in a big way.

One person who almost got snagged by the scam is CBS 17 employee Danielle Campbell.

It began with a frightening phone call supposedly from Campbell’s college-age son.

“The phone call didn’t even last a minute before he said he had to go,” she said. “With the panicked voice, I truly believed it was my son.”

The caller said he’d been jailed for a terrible crime.

“My son had been in a DUI and hit a pregnant woman,” Campbell said.

The next call Campbell got was supposedly from the public defender.

“These people wanted $9,000 for a bond to get him out of jail,” she said. “But we couldn’t get information about what jail he was in.”

Because Campbell and her husband also couldn’t reach their son, their panic was mounting.

She told Consumer Investigator Steve Sbraccia the scammers played on her emotions and tried to get her to act quickly.

“The conversation I had with this person who literally sounded like my son was less than a minute,” she said. “It was enough to frighten me to act immediately.”

After about three hours of frantic phone calls, a call to a bail bondsman began to unravel the scheme when the bondman told them $9,000 “was an unrealistic bond for any kind of DUI.”

A call to security at her son’s school also brought good news.

Campus police were able to physically track him down safe and sound on campus.

The FBI said between January 2020 to June 2021, this “relative-in-trouble” scam has resulted in more than $13 million in losses.

Experts say before you fork over any money to someone calling claiming to be a relative in trouble, you need to verify.

“Make sure you are communicating with other family members to make sure it’s really happening and that it’s not a scam to steal money from you,” said Alyssa Parker of the Better Business Bureau of Eastern North Carolina.

If you smell a rat, go with your instincts.

“My husband’s an attorney,” said Campbell. “He kept saying something doesn’t sound right.”

She reported the scam to the North Carolina Attorney General’s Office at 877-5-NO-SCAM.

On the federal level, the FBI’s internet crime complaint center is also interested in this scam. You can report it to them here.

The scam has many variations. Sometimes it’s supposed to be a grandchild in trouble. Sometimes the scammer says he/she is in the hospital or stuck somewhere without cash.

No matter what the variation, the hallmark of the scam is no matter what the ploy, the criminals want to panic you into making a snap decision.

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