A grandchild calls in an emergency and needs money so, of course, you would help, right?

The accident made her voice sound a little different, that’s all.


The Better Business Bureau refers to this as the Emergency Scam, or “grandparent scam,” because it often preys on older consumers who get a phone call or email from a relative who was injured, robbed or arrested while traveling overseas and needs money as soon as possible.


For more information, or to report a scam, call the Better Business Bureau at (414) 847-6000, or visit bbb.org.

It’s number six on the BBB’s list of the Top 10 Scams of 2014, and just one of the many ways scammers trick consumers into giving them money or information.

The BBB hears from thousands of consumers and business owners every year about a variety of scams and frauds, according to a press release dated Jan. 28. 

But each year, scammers get more sophisticated and find ways to put a new twist on an old scam.

Lisa Schiller, chief investigator and media relations for the BBB and a parishioner at St. Mary Parish, Hales Corners, told the Catholic Herald Monday that the top two scams hitting consumers in Wisconsin and throughout the nation, are the Arrest Scam – last year’s top scam – and the Tech Support Scam. They get calls weekly on both.

With the Arrest Scam, consumers receive an ominous phone call from someone claiming to be a police officer or government agent, like the IRS, coming to arrest them for overdue taxes or skipping out on jury duty.

“We’re just inundated with calls on that. …” Schiller said, noting the IRS said it’s “unprecedented, the largest scam” that has affected or hit them, where a scammer, likely from another country, can make the number on caller ID appear to be local or appear to be from the IRS.

With the Tech Support Scam, number two on the list, consumers get a phone call or pop-up on their computer claiming to be from Microsoft, Norton, Apple … etc., about a computer problem. The caller or pop-up claims that by giving “tech support” access to the hard drive, the problem will be fixed. Then, they’ll tell the person that they owe money on their taxes and need to pay immediately, adding that if they don’t pay, they’ll be arrested, or they’ll call people with foreign-sounding last names and say they’ll be deported, according to Schiller.

“Instead, they install malware on your computer and start stealing your personal information,” according to the release.

Schiller said a phone call is more common with this scam, and it’s usually from someone with a thick, foreign accent claiming to be from Microsoft or your computer company, to advise you that something’s wrong with your computer.

“Then, they offer to fix it remotely. …” she said, explaining that they’ll direct that person through series of commands. “When you follow those commands, what you’re doing is you’re giving them access to your computer remotely. They then install a virus on your computer.”

Then, the consumer has to pay to have their computer fixed.


The Better Business Bureau also offers these suggestions to keep you safe:

  • – Don’t be pressured into making fast decisions.

– Take time to research the organization. Check them out on bbb.org, search online, etc.

– Never provide your personal information (address, date of birth, banking information, ID numbers) to people you do not know.

– Don’t click on links from unsolicited email or text messages.

– If you are unsure about a call or email that claims to be from your bank, utility company, etc., call the business from the number on your bill or the back of your credit card.

– Never send money by wire transfer or prepaid debit card to someone you don’t know or haven’t met in person.

– Never send money for an emergency situation unless you’ve been able to verify the emergency.


“You actually have to go to a professional computer technician and have your computer cleaned and repaired. …” Schiller said. “So, you’ve actually broken your own computer by following the commands by these scammers, and they’re generally overseas which makes it really hard for the feds to actually find out who they are, who’s behind the scams.”

Schiller said another common scam they see throughout the year is the Sweepstakes Scam, number 10 on the list. 

“We get a lot of calls on that, that people have won, they’ve won a contest, they’ve won a trip … or they won a lottery, in which case we have to tell people foreign lotteries are illegal,” she said.

“It’s so important for us to get the word out to consumers, especially senior citizens, because they’re often targeted because of the nest eggs that they may have and it’s important for us to get the word out because the more people fall for these, the more we keep those scammers in business, and the more money that we lose,” Schiller said.

The press release also shared the following scams that made the Top 10 list:

Number 3 – “Are You Calling Yourself?” Scam: Scammers can make a call look like it’s coming from anywhere. The latest trick puts your number in the Caller ID, which piques your curiosity and gets you to pick up the phone or return the call … and then they’ve snagged you in whatever scam they are running.

Number 4 – Copycat Website Scam: You get an email, text message or social media post about a terrific sale or exciting new product. You click through and it looks just like a popular retailer’s site. But when you order, you either get a cheap counterfeit or nothing at all … and now they have your credit card number!

Number 5 – Medical Alert Scam: Another one that preys on older folks. You get a call or a visit from a company claiming a concerned family member ordered you a medical alert device in case you have an emergency. They take your credit card or banking information but you never receive anything.

Number 7 – Government Grant Scam: You get a call saying you’ve been awarded a government grant for thousands of dollars. It may even mention a program you’ve heard about in the news. All you have to do to collect your grant is pay a couple hundred in fees by wire transfer or prepaid debit card…

Number 8 – Robocall Scam: The notorious “Rachel from Cardholder Services” made a resurgence in 2014. This scam claims to be able to lower your credit card interest rates and takes personal information – including your credit card number – and then charges fees to your card.

Number 9 – Click Bait Scam: This one takes many forms, but the most notorious of the past year was when the Malaysian Airline plane went missing (“click here for video”). Other click bait schemes use celebrity images, fake news, and other enticing stories to get you to unintentionally download malware.

Scams increase after breaking news – from Hurricane Katrina to Robin Williams’ death, according to Schiller. Following the announcement that as many as 80 million customers of Anthem Inc., the parent company of Blue Cross Blue Shield, could be victims of a data breach, scammers are sending out emails spoofing the Anthem logo and corporate look, according to a press release from the BBB, dated Feb. 9.

It said the emails are unrelated to the data breach but take advantage of people’s fears and uncertainties. They claim to be from Anthem, and claim to provide information about free credit monitoring – but are scams.

The BBB reminds current and past customers of Anthem to get information from
anthem.com directly and not from an email link, as well as to consider placing a free fraud alert on credit reports by contacting one of the three major credit bureaus – Equifax, Experian or TransUnionCorp.

Doing this alerts potential lenders to verify the identity of anyone attempting to open an account in your name and provides some protection. Another option is placing a credit freeze with each of the credit bureaus, which involves a small charge, but also allows you to seek reimbursement if you can show that you were a victim of a data breach.

Schiller encourages anyone who questions a phone call, email, text, visit, phony invoice, etc., to call the Better Business Bureau.

“You’re not going to get a recording; you’re going to actually be able to speak to somebody here,” she said, noting that you may be placed on hold shortly before being transferred to an available operator. “We’re happy to talk to people. They can go on our website and they can click on ‘report a scam’ or they can click on ‘suggest an investigation’ and they can let us know about the call that they received.”

The BBB wants that information so it can send out press releases, and share the information through Facebook and Twitter right away, Schiller said.

“Another suggestion is, and something that I do regularly, is I’m registered with the state’s do not call list, hopefully, most people are, and that means that nobody can call you unless you’ve requested it, and the only two that can still call you legally, even though you’re on the do not call list, are political calls or calls from charities requesting donations. …” she said. “It only takes a minute to report the phone call and all you need is the phone number showing from your caller ID.”

Even if the phone number isn’t legitimate, because of spoofing devices, Schiller said the information helps them.

“I still take the time to report the phone number that called me, because I think the more people that turn in those numbers, who knows?” she said. “I’m always hopeful that someday our government can track them and trace them and bring those scammers to justice.”