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Spring Break Phone Scams

Posted on March 9, 2012



It's every parent's nightmare--a person calling about their beloved son or daughter being arrested or in hospital. Naturally, they need money right away, and it needs to be done through an escrow service such as MoneyGram or Western Union. In a panic, knowing that your child is on holiday, you fill out the forms and send all the money. A few days later, your teenager calls you and says he or she is having a fantastic time. You inquire about the incident, and response is, "What incident?"

This is a classic spring break scam. It preys on parents who simply want their children to be safe while on spring break. In the resulting panic of receiving a phone call, it is easy for parents to forget to run the message through a healthy dose of cynicism.

How Does It Work?

Spring break scams work by phoning parents whose children are on holiday. A dire situation is usually given where the child is in some sort of trouble, usually medical or legal. The scammer asks the parents to send money via a money order. The scammer collects the money and walks off with it. Parents don't realize they have been scammed until they are contacted by their child and by then their money is long gone.

How Do I Recognize It?

As with many scams of this type, the use of a money order service should ring alarm bells. Why would a hospital or a police department require you to pay through Western Union? This makes no sense, and this should tell you right away it is a scam.

On holiday, it is easy for your child to accidentally leave important documents lying around. This could be a passport at the beach, driving license left at a bar, or some other form of identification. Or even cell phones that are left unattended or lost can be used by scammers. This gives the scammer all the information he or she needs to call you and defraud you.

How Do I Prevent It from Happening?

First, ensure your children know the importance of keeping documents and possessions safe. This should prevent them from leaving information where scammers can find it.

Second, establish checking-in times. This lets you know if something is wrong. Also make sure you have the number and all vital information of where your child is staying and also have the cell phone numbers of those traveling with your child and their parent's contact information. The more people you can check in with in case of an emergency, the better.

Third, if your child has been taken to the hospital or police station, ask which one. Call the authorities and verify whether or not he or she has been admitted or arrested. Stay calm and remember to ask for as many details as possible. Don't use the number that the scammer has given you unless it is a genuine number of the hospital or police station. If that is the case, the call is probably genuine, but always check.

Fourth, call your child. If you find your child is perfectly safe then you have prevented yourself from being another victim. Under no circumstances should you wire money to someone you don't know. No official, whether overseas or domestic, will ask you to use a MoneyGram or Western Union service to send money.

Finally, register your child with the U.S. State Department's Smart Traveler Enrollment Program. This is a free program for Americans traveling abroad which will act as a liaison between you and your child in case of an emergency either at home or abroad. Registration is free and easy, at https://travelregistration.state.gov/ibrs/ui/.

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