A new scam has victimized consumers in recent weeks. In each of the reported cases, the scammer has claimed to be the victim's family member, in some sort of trouble, and in immediate need of money.
"This scam plays on the fears and emotions of the victim by using the name of a loved one," said New Mexico Attorney General Patricia Madrid. "As one victim said in her report, when you have a loved one in trouble, you will do whatever is asked of you as quickly as possible so you can help them. You don't think about the possibility that you could be the victim of a scam. This is one of the most egregious scams I have seen."
Two victims of the scam, a grandmother from Albuquerque and another from Los Alamos, lost $5,000 and $4,000, respectively. They both report receiving calls from a person who claimed to be their grandson.
In each case, the caller told his "grandmother" that he and some friends had been arrested for drinking and driving in Canada and were in need of money to post bail and for a plane ticket home. Both victims reported that the scammer called them, pleading to have money wired to a Canadian address. The victims did as they were told and wired money to the addresses they were given.
Later, the victims' suspicions were raised and called their real grandsons, only to discover that neither grandson had made a trip to Canada nor beene arrested. By the time the victims realized what had happened, they called the money transfer services only to be told the money had already been claimed in Canada.
Madrid urges consumers who receive calls like this to first get more information from the person calling.
"As desperate as the person calling may sound, remain calm and try to get as much information as possible. If the person calling claims to be a family member, ask them personal questions that only your family will know, such as your middle name or where he was born," said Madrid.
"Also, if you receive a call claiming to report an emergency involving a loved one, be extremely cautious. One mother from Los Lunas received such a call and wound up losing more than $1,000 to a scammer," said Madrid.
The Los Lunas mother received a call from a person claiming to be a dispatcher from the Arizona Highway Patrol who said her name was Kathy Richardson. "Kathy" asked the mother if she had a son by the name of Andy. "Kathy" said there had been a bad accident and that Andy was unconscious, had lost a lot of blood and needed to be airlifted to "Tucson Memorial Hospital."
"Kathy" also put a "Lieutenant Johnson" on the phone, who confirmed the accident. "Lt. Johnson" informed the mother that an 18-wheel truck had sideswiped Andy's car and that the driver of the truck was drunk.
"Kathy" told the mother that Andy's emergency contact information was found in his wallet and that he had insurance. "Kathy" then said insurance could not pay for the airlift, since it was a Saturday and the insurance company's office was closed. She informed the mother she would have to immediately wire $950 via Western Union to pay for the airlift.
"Kathy" said the insurance company would reimburse the $950, plus the cost of the wire transfer on Monday. "Kathy" told the mother she was to wire the money to a 2737 Gilmore Road in Westland, Michigan, because this was the quickest way to pay for the airlift.
An Internet search of 2737 Gilmore Road in Westland, Michigan by the Attorney General's Office returned no results.
The mother reported that "Kathy" kept repeating how much blood Andy had lost and how time-critical it was for the mother to wire the money. "Kathy" even gave the mother the address of the nearest Western Union outlet in Los Lunas.
Once the mother reached the Western Union office, "Kathy" called the mother's cell phone, which the mother had said to call. "Kathy" asked the code numbers for the wire transfer. Once the transaction was made, "Kathy" told the mother to stay off her phone and keep the line open so that a "Dr. Kim" from Tucson Memorial Hospital could update her on Andy's condition.
Extremely worried, the mother told her husband about the call, who then called another son and told him about the accident. The husband and son tried to look up the address of Tucson Memorial Hospital on the Internet, only to discover that there was no such facility. They tried contacting the Arizona Highway Department to ask about the accident, only to be told that there was no such report. The Arizona Highway Department also said they had no dispatcher named Kathy Richardson, nor a Lt. Johnson.
The mother called Western Union and asked about the status of the wire transfer, which totaled $1,028.00 ($950 plus a $78.00 wire transfer fee.) The money had been picked up at 3:54 that afternoon.
Attorney General Madrid said, "In an emergency situation, you will never be required to pay for emergency services before they are given. If a caller claims to be reporting an emergency, ask their name, title and what agency they are with. Do not call a number given to you by the caller, because they could be lying or have an accomplice waiting for a callback."
"Call information to confirm that the agency actually exists, then try contacting them yourself. Do not reveal your bank account numbers, credit card information or other personal information over the phone in response to an unsolicited call," Madrid advised. "As difficult as it may seem, when you get a call like this, you should remain calm and remain vigilant. The scammer expects you to panic and that's where the scam succeeds."