Emergency scams

The scam

The scammer pretends to be a family member or friend in trouble who needs money.


Your grandchild calls out of the blue and they're in trouble. Or are they? How can you tell if this is a real emergency or a scammer? Believe it or not, you have the power to recognize scammers when they come calling.

Scammers claim to be someone you know. A grandchild, friend or neighbour. They tell you they've been in a car accident or they've landed in jail or they're stuck in a foreign country. They need money right away and they don't want you to tell anyone. Sometimes they work in pairs; one pretends to be your grandchild and the other poses as a police officer or a lawyer.

But don't panic. Instead, slow things down and ask questions only that person would know … or call someone to find out where they actually might be. And remember, never send money or give personal details to anyone you don't know and trust.

Why? Because knowledge is your super power. And with knowledge, you can beat the scammers at their own game, and protect yourself and your loved ones.

Video length: 1 minute, 24 seconds

How it works

These fraudsters often target grandparents. The grandparent receives a phone call from someone claiming to be their grandchild who goes on to say they are in trouble and need money immediately. Common misfortunes include having been in a car accident, getting locked up in jail, or trouble returning home from a foreign country.

One variation features two people on the phone, one pretending to be a grandchild and the other a police officer or lawyer.

In other cases, the scammer will pretend to be an old neighbour or a family friend in trouble.

How to spot it

The caller will ask you questions, getting you to reveal personal information. They’ll also swear you to secrecy, saying they are embarrassed and don’t want other family members to find out what’s happened.

Protect yourself

  • Take time to verify the story. Scammers are counting on you wanting to quickly help your loved one in an emergency.
  • Call the child’s parents or friends to find out about their whereabouts.
  • Ask the person on the phone questions that only your loved one would be able to answer and verify their identity before taking steps to help.
  • Never send money to anyone you don’t know and trust.
  • Never give out any personal information to the caller.

Further reading