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Scam 77 in a world of crime

Scam #77 – Injured relative scam
Likely damage: 
Countries reported: India, Thailand.
Summary: Scammers get hold of tourists’ details and call their next of kin, pretending that the tourist has been injured or arrested, and demanding money to get them out of trouble.

This scam does not target travellers directly. Instead, it targets their friends and families. It is similar to the e-mail scam in which the scammer contacts the victim’s friends and family, purporting to be the victim, who has been ill, and demands money to settle medical bills.

For this scam, however, the criminal does not need access to the victim’s e-mail account:
1. The scammer obtains the victim’s home address and the names and phone numbers of his next of kin. He can do this if he has sight of the victim’s passport, on the back page of which next of kin are often listed as emergency contacts.
2. Another way is to bribe a tour company: travellers often have to list their emergency contacts when they sign up to tours with an element of danger, such as white-water rafting or canyoning.
3. The scammer then contacts the victim’s friends and family. He pretends to be a doctor at a hospital, and says that the victim has been injured. He may ask for the victim’s credit card details, or for money for the victim’s medical treatment to be cabled to a bank account which he names.
4. The fake doctor will say that the money has to be sent urgently, otherwise the traveller’s treatment will have to stop.
5. If challenged, the scammer will invent a reason why the traveller’s travel insurance does not cover the costs of hospitalisation.
6. The victims will never see the money again.

In another variant of this scam:
1. As above, the scammer obtains the victim’s home address and the names and phone numbers of his next of kin.
2. The scammer calls the traveller’s family and pretends to be a police officer from the country where the traveller currently is. In order to boost his credibility, the scammer may give official-sounding, but fake, contact details, such as names and addresses, of hospitals or police stations.
3. They will say that the traveller has been arrested and needs either the victim’s credit card details or a substantial sum of money to be wired as bail, or perhaps as a fine, to an account they designate.
4. Again, they will control the account, and disappear with the money.

Criminals trying to scam people in this way often prefer to phone their victims late at night. This means that their victims will probably be woken up by their phone calls and therefore their resistance will be lower and they will be likely to hand over the money more easily. Scammers are also more likely to target relatives, in particular parents, of younger travellers, such as students or gap year travellers, whose parents will be more likely to pay up without difficulty.

To avoid becoming a victim of this scam:
• Refuse to give out the names and addresses of your next-of-kin to anyone who has no obvious need for them.
• Tell your next-of-kin about this scam, and to refuse to wire money to accounts which they do not recognise. They should be very suspicious of requests from overseas for money, and should not send their credit card details to a third party, unless they have been able to verify that the third party is who they claim to be. The Internet has made it much easier to find the names and addresses of police stations and hospitals overseas.
• If you are contacted by someone asking for money on behalf of a friend or relative overseas, the best advice is to ask for the phone number and other contact details of the person who is calling, and then say that you will call back. Verify as many of the contact details either online or over the phone as possible, before asking for any money, and if you are in doubt, ask for more information which you can check yourself.

Author: Peter John is a lifelong traveller who dabbles in office work while planning his next trip. He has never knowingly scammed anyone, but has been scammed while he travelled more times than he cares to remember. He hopes that others can learn from his mistakes, which are spelled out in merciless detail in ‘Around the World in 80 Scams: an essential travel guide‘.

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