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Think before you act: Be wary of phone scams

You get a random call from a stranger saying one of your loved ones, such as a grandchild, daughter, or nephew, is in some sort of trouble and they need you to wire them money immediately. What do you do next?

This is likely a scam, but immediate action is important to protect yourself. One important rule of cybersecurity to remember is that you should never send money to unverified individuals or organizations, no matter how urgent the situation may seem.

Although these schemes have been labeled as “grandparent scams,” as grandparents have often been the victims, scams like this may target anyone. A student’s uncle, for example, could receive a call claiming that their nephew has been in an accident and needs help.

“They’ll say they need cash to help with an emergency—like paying a hospital bill or needing to leave a foreign country,” according to the Federal Trade Commission. “They pull at your heartstrings so they can trick you into sending money before you realize it’s a scam.”

How can you avoid these types of family emergency scams? The FTC recommends handling as follows:

  • Resist the urge to act immediately—no matter how dramatic the story is.
  • Verify the caller’s identity. Ask questions that a stranger couldn’t possibly answer. Call a phone number for your family member or friend that you know to be genuine. Check the story out with someone else in your family or circle of friends, even if you’ve been told to keep it a secret.
  • Don’t send cash, gift cards, or money transfers—once the scammer gets the money, it’s gone!

If you are a Rutgers employee or student and you, or your family members, have experienced any scams similar to this or any other forms of phishing, please report it to the Rutgers University Computing Incident Response Team (RU CIRT). Fraudulent phone calls should also be reported to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for further investigation.

This story was originally published on March 31, 2023.

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