BURLINGTON – Attorney General T.J. Donovan is warning Vermonters about a new variation of the family emergency scam in which scammers are demanding that cash be handed over in person to a “courier.” By presenting a fake emergency in which their loved one needs help getting out of trouble, scammers pressure panicked family members, including grandparents, into acting before they can realize it’s a scam. Until recently, scammers took a hands-off approach in collecting money, demanding gift cards, wire transfers, or virtual payments. Now, the Attorney General’s Consumer Assistance Program (CAP) is receiving reports that scammers are enlisting “couriers” to collect cash directly from unsuspecting family members at their homes to resolve the fake emergency. Vermonters who receive these calls should resist the urge to act immediately and take steps to verify the caller’s identity.
While the family emergency scam has long plagued Vermonters, CAP is raising awareness about the spread of “couriers” coming to Vermonters’ homes to collect cash. In the last week, CAP has received 4 family emergency scam reports from Vermonters who were told that an individual or a “courier” would retrieve cash from them at their homes—3 of these scams resulted in monetary loss. Common elements of this scam include:
Claims of a “gag order” being in place which requires secrecy.
Cash is needed to pay for a “bond” or a “bail bond agent.”
A loved one was involved in a “car accident,” sometimes related to traveling for a COVID-19 test.
CAP has found that scammers are becoming more sophisticated in their contacts and appear to be using internet searches and public social media profiles to research the locations of family members. By searching telephone numbers and addresses on the internet and scanning popular social media sites, scammers can learn about familial relationships, ages, and geographic locations. Scammers then use this information to make the scam seem credible.
CAP advises Vermonters to slow down and follow a plan to not get scammed. Use the SLOW method in urgent situations:
S – SLOW DOWN. Scammers pressure you to act urgently. Take time to regain your calm.
L – LOG THE CONTACT. Write down the phone number of the contact and disengage.
O – ONE CALL. Make one call to a primary contact, such as a friend or family member, and discuss the incident.
W – WHO CARES? Call CAP to identify and report scams at 1-800-649-2424.
The Consumer Assistance Program (CAP) has received scam reports from Vermonters who have reported receiving calls from scammers claiming to be grandchildren or lawyers representing loved ones in an emergency and that money is needed.
When contacted by someone who asks for money, a gift card to be purchased, funds to be wired, or for any other financial transaction, take steps to verify the identity of your loved one in distress.
Slow down. The scammers urge you to act urgently; don’t.
Write down the phone number of the caller and hang up.
Call your grandchild or any other person who can verify their whereabouts and well-being.
Call another person in your life who cares about you.
Call CAP at 1-800-649-2424. We care and can help identify scams.
Even if you have not been contacted by this scam, now is a great time to connect with loved ones to create a scam action plan in preparation for the likely receipt of scam calls. Consider creating an uncommon family codeword or pin number that you agree to not publicize or share with others. Make a phone tree of reliable contacts to call if a scam like this is received. Learn more about family emergency scams on CAP’s website: ago.vermont.gov/family-imposter. Act now to prevent future loss.
Help CAP stop these scams by sharing this information with those you care about.
If you have lost money to this scam, contact the money transfer company right away! Report the scam to the Consumer Assistance Program at 1-800-649-2424.
For more information on the Attorney General’s efforts to support and protect older Vermonters, visit the webpage of the Attorney General’s Elder Protection Initiative.
“I need help…” “I’m in prison…” “I’m in the hospital. I need help…” “I had a bad car accident, and people are injured…”
No matter what the scammers say when they initiate the family imposter/ emergency scam, it is sure to spike emotion. Scammers call, claiming to be one of your most cherished loved ones—your grandchild—and ignite fear that those you care about are in dire need. With emotions running high, how can you not engage with the call, stay on the line, and find out more? You are worried and feel helpless because all you have to validate this story is the phone in your hand and the fear of what if.
What if you do nothing and your grandchild really is in trouble?
I considered these very questions when writing the script for the newly released Avoiding the Family Emergency Scam videos. I recalled the stories of actual Vermont families receiving such alarming calls in the middle of the night with nothing to go on but the urgency of the call, the deep love for their family member, and the desire to resolve the issue at hand. As our volunteer actress, Ruth Wallman, relays as the unsuspecting grandparent in the video, “What was I supposed to do? He needed my help!…I like to be there for my family. But, this just went too far.”
In creating this video series, I hoped to help Vermont families find a way to still be there for their families when emergencies arise by arming them with useful verification strategies to decipher between a scam and an actual family crisis. Verification of the family imposter scam starts with the SLOW method, a scam response strategy I created specifically to pause and identify scams. It urges people to Slow Down, Log the Contact, make One Call to a primary contact to discuss the incident, and call an organization in your life Who Cares, such as the Consumer Assistance Program (CAP) at 1-800-649-2424.
Engaging with others is a crucial verification step, because scammers often demand secrecy in family emergency scams and make would-be valid claims that they would be too embarrassed or ashamed, or afraid of ensuing punishment if other family members were made aware of the damning incident.
Family support and open, frequent communication among families is essential to putting an end to the family imposter/emergency scam. If questions remain, family cannot be reached or communications are limited, contacting a third-party organization, like CAP is the next best step. CAP is familiar with scams and can help to identify them. By contacting CAP, you can also make a scam report, which helps our office identify and alert the public about scam trends.
Help protect yourself and others by taking time to watch the video. Review the information on our website, and encourage those you care about to learn more about scams and prevention strategies to stop them.
Vermonters filed 5,021 scam reports with the Attorney General’s Consumer Assistance Program (CAP) in 2020. The Social Security number phishing scam, which typically involves calls claiming that your Social Security number has been compromised, suspended, or linked to criminal activity, remained the most commonly scam for the second year in a row with 1,160 reports filed. Claiming the number two spot on the list of top ten scams in 2020 were “free money” scams. Six-hundred-eighty-three Vermonters reported receiving “free money” scam calls where they were told that they had won a prize or money and needed to pay fees or taxes upfront to collect. With scam attempts remaining high, Attorney General T.J. Donovan urges Vermonters to Take it Slow: scammers will pressure you to act fast, demanding personal information and payment, while threatening extreme consequences if you do not comply. Don’t let them pressure you!
“If you get a suspicious call, remember to slow down, hang up the phone, and take notes on the interaction,” warned Attorney General Donovan. “If you still need help identifying if something is a scam, call us at CAP at 800-649-2424.”
Unfortunately, many scam encounters result in monetary loss in Vermont. In 2020, 249 Vermonters lost approximately $1.5 million, in total, to scammers. The most common scams associated with monetary loss were imposter scams (scammers posing as friends, family members, or romantic interests) and online classified listing scams (scams perpetrated on sites such as Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace). Scammers ask their victims to send money using a variety of methods, including gift card transactions, peer-to-peer payments apps like Venmo or CashApp, wire transfers, and cash or checks in the mail.
Vermonters can report a scam or sign up for the Scam Alert system by going to ago.vermont.gov/cap or by calling the Consumer Assistance Program at 1-800-649-2424.
The scam: You receive a phone call (usually a robocall) stating that there has been criminal or fraudulent activity involving your Social Security number. The scammer may also claim to be a government agency or law enforcement, threatening arrest or serious consequences. The scam often begins as a robocall.
How to spot the scam: If Social Security (or any official agency) wanted to contact you, they would not call to ask for your personal information, especially your Social Security number, over the phone. These agencies mail communications and would never threaten you for information or payment over the phone.
What to do: Be wary when responding to unsolicited contacts and never provide personal information to unknown contactors, especially over the phone.
The scam: You receive a phone call, email, or mailing that claims you have won money or a prize—but there’s a catch: you have to pay money up front for taxes or fees. Sometimes the outreach includes a realistic-looking fake check. The check bounces and no “winnings” are ever dispersed. Often, they claim to be Publishers Clearing House. Scammers may also claim to offer government grants or stimulus money, getting touch via social media.
How to spot the scam: If you actually win a major prize from Publishers Clearing House, they will contact you in person. For smaller prizes (less than $10,000), winners are notified by overnight delivery services (FedEx, UPS), certified mail, or email in the case on online giveaways. They never make phone calls. An unsolicited check in the mail from an unknown sender is usually a scam.
What to do: If it sounds too good be true, then it’s not true. Never pay an upfront fee to receive winnings or a grant. If you win something, they will pay you – not the other way around. No actual contest or sweepstakes would you make you pay first to receive money.
Amazon and package deliveries phishing
The scam: An automated phone call or email claiming that your credit card has been charged by Amazon or that you have an outstanding balance on your account. The scammer instructs people to call them to get a refund or resolve the charge, at which point they request your card number and attempt to gain remote access to your computer. You might also receive a text message or email claiming that you have a package, but they need to verify your information.
How to spot the scam: Amazon will not call you unless you request that they do so. If you have legitimate concerns about your Amazon account, or other accounts, contact the company directly through a trusted contact, such as through the customer portal within your account.
What to do: Hang up the phone and do not call back. Furthermore, you should not allow remote access to your computer to unknown parties. If you are concerned about charges made to your credit card, contact your credit card company directly. If you receive a text regarding a package delivery, don’t click any links or reply.
The scam: A phone call or pop-up message on your computer claiming to be from Microsoft, Apple, or another well-known tech company. They will say there is a virus or other problem with your computer and try to persuade you to give them remote access to resolve the issue. They may also ask for immediate payment for their services.
How to spot the scam: Legitimate customer service information usually won’t display as a pop-up. Companies like Microsoft, Apple, and Google do not call you to notify you of malware on your computer.
What to do: Never provide remote access to your computer to a stranger or click links from an unknown sender in an e-mail or pop-up message. If you get a call from “tech support,” hang up. Also, be careful when searching for tech support numbers online. Some users have been scammed by calling illegitimate numbers for legitimate companies.
The scam: There is a wide variety of phony relationship scams. Sometimes, the scammer pretends to be someone you know, like a love interest, friend, relative, or even a religious leader. They typically reach out to you online or on the phone, claiming to need money.
How to spot the scam: They ask you to send money immediately, often in the form of wire transfers or gift cards. If you met the person online, but they refuse to video-chat or talk on the phone.
What to do: If they claim to be someone you know, call the person using a verified phone number. If you receive a suspicious email, be sure to double-check the email address. If you’re feeling suspicious, get the real story and talk to someone you trust. Cut off communication with the scammer. If you receive an email from a friend or coworker asking for money, do not send money. Be sure to call that person directly—it’s most likely a scam.
The scam: Scammers pose as debt collectors or law enforcement and say legal action will be taken against you if you don’t pay them what you owe. Some may claim to be familiar businesses or the government, such as utility companies or the IRS.
How to spot the scam: If you did owe a debt, collectors are not allowed to threaten you with arrest over the phone. You can request verification of the debt, which has to be sent to you in writing. If you ask them to stop calling you, they are generally required to stop.
What to do: Hang up the phone, and if they call again, let the call go to voicemail. If you think you do actually owe money to a debt collector or other agency, make sure you call using a trusted number.
The scam: Sometimes the scammer responds to a seller’s post, overpays with a check, and asks for the remainder to be wired back. Sometimes the post is for a fictitious rental property and the scammer is looking for the deposit and first month’s rent to be sent immediately. Scams even happen when you are looking for that perfect puppy or pet to expand your family, but the transport of the animal is supposedly held up at the airport or elsewhere.
How to spot the scam: If you feel suspicious, stop the sale or purchase. The scammer may ask you to wire them money, send a bank transfer, or pay using gift cards. They may not want to talk on the phone or meet in person. Remember, you should not provide a rental deposit before signing the lease or contract in-person.
What to do: Complete your transactions in cash and preferably in-person. If they refuse to meet in-person or talk on the phone, ignore them and end communication.
The scam: You receive an email that threatens exposure of compromising home video and pictures, unless you pay, usually in Bitcoin. The email claims you have been hacked and may reference a current or former password you may have used. The sender claims that they have access to your computer and webcam and threatens to release embarrassing photos and video unless you send them money.
How to spot the scam: The scammer is using scare tactics to make you act fast. Don’t take the bait! The email message will often include threats and hurtful language.
What to do: Do not reply to the email or click on any links or attachments included on the message. Do not send money. If you find that your current password is listed in the email, change your passwords from another computer and run virus scans. Delete the email or add it to your spam/junk folder.
The scam: Scammers pose as grandchildren and claim to be in serious trouble, such as in prison or at the hospital. They urgently request money in the form of wired funds or prepaid gift cards. They may also claim that their voice sounds unfamiliar due to injury. After the initial call, they may claim you will be hearing from an attorney or officer.
How to spot the scam: Call your grandchild or family members on known phone numbers to ensure your grandchild is safe.
What to do: Never wire or otherwise send funds unless you can verify the emergency. Take it slow and contact someone you trust.
Bank/financial institution phishing
The scam: You receive an email or phone call claiming to be from a bank. Emails might claim that your account is in danger or has been suspended, or that your card is on hold due to suspicion activity. The email also includes links to phony websites. Phone calls may claim that there has been fraudulent activity involving your account, and the scammers demand personal information about you and your account.
How to spot the scam: Scammers mask their actual identity by changing the sender name to the name of the financial institution. Look at the email address before opening the email. You will often find an account not affiliated with your bank. Similarly, scammers can spoof phone numbers of financial institutions. If you answer a call that appears to be from your bank and they ask for your personal and/or account information, hang up and call your bank directly on a number you trust to verify their attempt to contact you.
What to do: Do not reply to the email or click on any links or attachments included on the message. If you receive a call, hang up the phone. To correspond directly with your bank or financial institution, use verified contact information, such as information listed on your statement.
“Grandma, it’s me, I am in prison…” “Grandpa, I’m in the hospital. I need help…” “Nanna and Poppa, I had a bad car accident, and people are injured…”
No matter what the scammers say when they initiate the “Grandparent” scam, the introduction is sure to spike emotion. That is what they hope. They call claiming to be one of your most cherished loved ones—your grandchild—and ignite fear that those you care about are in dire need. With emotions running high and deep, how can you not engage with the call, stay on the line, and find out more? You are worried and feel helpless because all you have to validate this story is the phone in your hand and the fear of what if. What if you do nothing and your grandchild really is in trouble?
It is so hard. What if the very phone where you received the call is also what will reveal the mystery? What if all you needed was your phone and a reminder to slow down? Would receiving this daunting call be any easier?
Today, our office issued
an alert about the grandchild imposter scam, commonly referenced as
the grandparent scam, because it targets grandparents and their unwavering
generosity and care for their loved ones. This scam is successful because
the scammers know our grandparents care, and they know the psychology behind
how difficult it is to think through problems when emotions are
When you receive one of
these jarring calls, here is what you can do:
Take steps to verify by
S – Slow down. The
scammers urge you to act urgently. Don’t.
L – Log
the call. For your assurance, write down the phone number of the caller
and hang up.
O – One
call. Make a call to your grandchild or another who can verify your
grandchild’s whereabouts and well-being.
W – Who
cares? Call another person in your life who cares about you. Know that you can
call CAP at 1-800-649-2424. We care and can help identify scams.
Before this scam happens to you, you can take steps now to create a scam action plan with your family. Keep the SLOW reminder near your phone. With family, consider creating an uncommon family code word or PIN that you agree to not share publicly. Make a phone tree of reliable contacts to call if a scam like this is received. Act now to prevent future loss.
Help us stop these scams by sharing this information with those you care about.