Police are warning the public to be vigilant against the “Grandparent Scam,” also called the “Emergency Scam.” This scam has been around for years but seems to have become more popular in the past year or so.
The typical scenario for this fraud is a grandparent receives a phone call from a con-artist claiming to be one of his or her grandchildren. The caller says they are in some kind of trouble – usually a car accident, trying to return from a foreign country, or they need funds to pay bail – and need money immediately. The caller specifically asks the victim to not contact other relatives because the caller doesn't want to “get in trouble” with other family members. Wanting to help their grandchild, the victim sends money electronically, usually through a form of money transfer.
Variations on the scam exist where the con-artist claims to be an old neighbor or friend of the family, etc.
First of all, make sure you know who you are talking to. Ask the caller a question or two that only he or she would know. (What Little League team did you play for when you were eight years old? What is your sister's middle name?)
Never send money by Western Union to someone you do not know. In the grandparent scam, the caller will claim that you must send money to a lawyer or a bail bondsman or some other third-party. Don't do it! Even the Western Union web site at http://www.westernunion.com/info/fraudIndex.asp?country=global states, "If you need to send money to someone you don’t know well, you may be putting yourself at risk for fraud."
Finally, when in doubt, call your local police department and ask for advice. They are well aware of the current scams and can offer great advice.