Phone scam targets older parents

CHARLOTTE, NC W(BTV) - It's a scenario no parent wants to consider.  Your child calls and they are out of the country and going to jail.  They are upset.  You are upset.  It's hard to get all the details during the phone call but it doesn't really matter.  You would do anything to free them.  The problem is, more often than not, it's a scam of the worst kind.  Taking advantage of you to make you give up your wallet without asking questions.

Cyber thieves are trolling internet information and hide behind the anonymity of the net and a convincing phone call to trick parents out of thousands of dollars.  I know it sounds like this scam would be easy to spot but it's so scary, so emotional, and happens so often even Western Union employees are trained to ask questions when an upset parent is wiring money.

WBTV's cyber expert, Theresa Payton, explains.


1.  Cyber thieves will troll internet phone books and online databases looking for targets

2.  They will do internet searches to find mentions of family or friends

3.  The more sophisticated ones will even surf social networks to learn nick names, pet names, and other details to make the phone call more convincing

4.  Armed with data, they usually call in the middle of the night so their potential victim will be groggy


1.  AREA/COUNTRY CODE:  Look up the country code / area code of the call to make sure it matches the location they claim to be in.  Many of these internet & phone call scams originate in Quebec, Canada-area code "914".

2.  HURRY & DON'T TELL ANYONE:  The caller will say - "Don't tell anyone" and then will talk about embarrassment or making it worse.  That's the hook.  If you feel you must commit while on the phone, do so but BEFORE YOU SEND ANY MONEY, contact the State Department's Office of Overseas Citizens Services (OCS) at 1-888-407-4747. We will help you verify whether the situation is legitimate or a scam!

3.  DON'T CALL MY NUMBER:  Call all the numbers of the loved one that is "in jail" first even if you are convinced that they are in danger and you are on your way to the Western Union to wire money.

4.  SEND CASH QUICKLY:  Any requirements to send 1 or more wires quickly is a red flag


In advance, choose a code word that family members will know for emergencies.  Make sure it is something that you would never share on social media sites.  If this ever happens to you, it's one more piece of information to detect if your loved one is in trouble or if you are being scammed!


1.  Call your bank immediately

2.  Report it to your local law enforcement

3.  Report the incident to the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) - this is a partnership between the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the National White Collar Crime Center (NW3C).


Check the State Department's website where they cover this type of scam:

File a report with the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3)

Western Union has tips on avoiding fraud here.

Federal Trade Commission's Bureau of Consumer Protection.

WORD OF THE WEEK:  BLACKHOLE MALWARE.  This is a virus spreading mostly via twitter.  It sends you to their "black hole" and while you think you are at a legitimate site, when you click on a link it talks to a site in Russia that will attempt to download.  This virus is morphing and has been seen in tweets about traffic tickets, photos, and news.  Think before you click!

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