Impostor scams are one of the fastest-growing types of fraud

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RIP-OFF ALERT: Impostor scams — where a criminal poses either online or on the phone as your close friend or relative in need of monetary assistance — are one of the fastest-growing areas of fraud, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

Here’s how these scams typically play out: You get an e-mail saying that a relative has been injured in an accident, usually somewhere overseas, and they need money for medical treatment. Or they say they’re in jail in a foreign country and need bail money.

In the phone call version of this scam, senior citizens are the most common target. Here’s how a typical conversation might go:

The phone rings and the senior picks up…

Scamster: (in a low tone) Grandma?
Senior: Is that you, Jimmy?
Scamster: Yes, it’s me and I’m in trouble. I’m in jail. I need you to wire money so I can get out.

The typical take on these scams is anywhere between $3,000 and $4,000. And there’s even a reload. If the scammer gets money once, they’ll have another person call up impersonating a police officer and ask for additional funds because of property damage in order for the “grandchild” to be released.

Once the money is taken, you’ll never see it again. (Remember, you should never give out personal info over the phone or send money to unknown sources through a wire service.)

I want you to make sure your elders know not to react to these scams. If they do get the call or the e-mail, tell them to immediately contact other relatives to see if a family member really is ill or injured overseas.


Finally, I want you to beware of e-mails containing an e-greeting card, a funny joke or a video you need to watch. It may not be from the individual who it purports to be, but from a crook who hacked into their account. If that’s the case, if you click on whatever it is, it will download a virus to your computer. My advice is don’t open any e-cards or click on unknown links in e-mails.

This segment originally aired in April 2011.

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