Resurgence of 'grandparent scam' involves wiring money for fake emergencies

The Hawaii Better Business Bureau is reporting a resurgence of the so-called "grandparent scam" which pressures people into wiring money in order to help a family member.

It comes as the federal government is cracking down on companies that it says don't do enough to protect people.

"The scammers will call either grandparents or family member -- and it tends to be an older family member -- and inform them that one of their younger family members is stuck or in need of money because of an emergency," said director of communications Jason Kama.

He says the scammers are armed with convincing arguments, such as a family member being stuck in jail or a foreign country, or injured and in the hospital.

The Hawaii BBB says it's heard of about a dozen reported cases so far this year.

"It builds on that fear, and that fear for your family member, and that's kind of what the scammers are hoping that you'll do," Kama said, "is just blindly react."

But the common theme in all of the scenarios is that you need to wire money and quickly.

Last month, the federal government and Western Union agreed to a $586 million settlement to give back money to scam victims who wired money. The government claimed Western Union had known since 2004 that scammers were using the company to commit fraud, but kept taking people's money anyway.

The settlement also requires the company to better train its employees to look out for fraud and to give clearer warnings to anyone who wires money.

"Most often people feel like they need to react quickly to this and that's how it works so well," Kama says, adding that, generally, wiring money to someone you don't know should raise red flags.

If you have a consumer concern or are interested in becoming an Action Line volunteer, give us a call at 591-0222 weekdays between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. or send an email to

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