Avoid This Common Phone Scam

PUBLISHED ON January 23, 2023
LAST UPDATED Jan 23, 2023

I’ve worked in cybersecurity a long time, and over the years have learned a lot about the tactics of bad actors trying to steal funds or create chaos. These tactics often involve some level of social engineering – or trying to “hack” a person, rather than a computer system. In other words, the attacker tries to get a person to do something – usually something that gives the attacker access to a system. One popular social engineering tactic is when criminals email employees at a company as if they’re the CEO in order to get them to click a link that allows the criminal access to back-end systems.  

There’s a somewhat more old-school social engineering tactic emerging recently, and it’s really hit home for me because I know a few people who were personally affected. Although not technically in the cyber world, I wanted to take a moment to call attention to this scam in the hopes of preventing even one person from falling victim.   

Bottom line: Hang up (and tell your friends and relatives to hang up) if you ever get a call from a stranger telling you a loved one is in jail, in the hospital, or anything similar. If you get a call like this, hang up immediately, and call another family member to check up on the loved one mentioned. Never give any caller your credit card information, or wire any money. 99.999% of the time, this is a scam. No matter what the caller says, immediately hang up.  

These scammers are making thousands of calls a day. It goes like this: “Hello, I’m a lawyer and your loved one was drunk, got in a car accident and seriously injured a pregnant woman.” The person being called will say something like, “Is it my grandson John?” The scammer will say, “Yes. John has been charged with a serious crime and needs bail money. He was drunk. He asked me to call you because he is embarrassed and knows you can be trusted not to tell anyone.” The scammer will sometimes have another person on the line crying and saying they are “John,” saying they need help immediately and don’t tell anyone else. Then the scammer will ask you for money. 

This scam is happening all the time, especially to the elderly, so please share this post with everyone. The more people know about this type of scam, the less likely anyone will fall for it.  

Here is a link to my podcast, where I talk about this scam and play a recording of a caller trying to pull off the fraud. Luckily, the person who received the call knew it was a scam and recorded it.   

Most corporations today have mandatory training to educate employees on social engineering and how to recognize it and avoid falling victim to it. Our vulnerable elderly population is not getting training like this, and these scammers are taking advantage. Please help keep them safe. 

About the Author

Gene Fay

Gene has extensive experience building high-impact teams at early-stage startups in storage, virtualization, and cybersecurity. He has specific expertise in go-to-market strategies, marketing, customer success, and channel development. Gene holds an MBA from Northeastern University, where he guest lectures on topics such as product management, marketing, and sales.