Don't be tricked out of money by the 'grandparent scam'

(ARA) - Grandparents across the country are falling victim to a new and surprisingly effective scam: They receive phone calls from people claiming to be their grandkids, frantically asking for money.

It's easy to see why many people don't hesitate to open their wallets in this situation. When you hear that your loved ones are in trouble, your first instinct is to help. Unfortunately, that's just what scam artists are counting on.

In what's known as the "grandparent scam," calls often come late in the night, and the callers are in a panic, saying that they're in an emergency situation, like a car accident or having been arrested. Posing as grandchildren, the con artists often beg their victims not to call their "parents," and ask them to transfer money as quickly as possible.

The sense of urgency that the con artists create is what makes concerned grandparents act quickly, without verifying who is calling. Con artists will pull in others to impersonate attorneys, law enforcement personnel or others of authority to create the sense of urgency. With the availability of information on the Internet, the scam is even easier to pull off - cons can look up names, phone numbers and more and find out the right things to say to their victims. And with background noise and muffled phone lines, it can be hard to distinguish between voices.

"The best protection from this scam is awareness," says Denise Jaworski, vice president of consumer protection at Western Union. "There are other, similar scams in which fraudsters call or send e-mails claiming to be friends or relatives who need help. These scams change daily, so it's important to verify any emergency situation before sending funds."

Keep these tips in mind to protect yourself from becoming a victim of fraud:

* If you get an e-mail or a phone call from a family member or friend claiming to need money urgently, take the time to mentally review the situation to see if it makes sense.

* Tell the caller you'll call them back at a known number, not a number that they give you. In the mean time, call a mutual friend and ask if they are aware of the situation.

* Contact your friend or family member and let them know you've received an e-mail or call claiming to be from them. If you discover that someone is trying to defraud you, contact your local police immediately.

* Be suspicious. Because "emergency" scams are becoming more commonplace, you need to be aware of the potential dangers and take them seriously. Don't feel bad about verifying the information you're receiving.

* If you did send a money transfer through Western Union before realizing it was a scam, call the company immediately at (800) 448-1492. If the transfer hasn't been picked up, it will be refunded to you. Also, file a report with your local police department.

Some extra communication can help prevent scams like these as well. For example, travelers should make sure that their friends and family are aware of any international travel dates and destinations. You should also be vigilant about the information available about you online, which scammers might try to use against you or your loved ones. Help protect others by sharing this information with them. For more information about scams and for more tips on how to protect yourself from fraud, visit