Seniors - beware family-emergency phone scams

Liz Evans Scolforo

The York County Elder Abuse Task Force is warning people about a recent scam to separate seniors from their money in which scammers pretend to be family members in trouble.


The task force's mission is to educate senior citizens about financial fraud, and it urges people to remember the three Rs:

  • Recognize a potential scam
  • Refuse to make any hasty decisions
  • Report suspicious activity to police.

In family-emergency scams, callers pretend to be loved ones and claim they have an emergency that requires the target to wire them money right away, according to a news release from the task force.

Scammers often will call targets overnight to catch them off guard, the release states.

The scammers often can convincingly impersonate the target's loved ones, having either hacked them or researched them via social media.

They sometimes have an accomplice pretend to be an authority figure, such as an attorney or police officer.

Scammers will sometimes swear a target to secrecy, so the target's family members don't find out about the scam until it's too late to recover the money, officials said. They also pressure targets to act right away.

If someone calls you claiming to be a friend or family member in desperate need of money, there are steps you can take to determine if the call is legitimate, according to the Elder Abuse Task Force:

  • Verify the identity of the caller by asking questions about the person a stranger wouldn't be able to answer. Families might also consider establishing a code word, which scammers wouldn't know about.
  • Call or text someone, such as a family member, who would know if there really is an emergency.
  • Don't wire money or send a check or money order via overnight delivery.

If you believe you've been the target of a family-emergency scam, contact the Federal Trade Commission at or by calling 877-FTC-HELP, and also by reporting the scam to the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office's Elder Abuse Unit at 866-623-2137.

Anyone with questions can call York County chief deputy prosecutor Dave Sunday or assistant district attorney Alison Glunt at 717-771-9600.