COVID-19 brings new twist to family emergency scam

VIDEO: COVID-19 brings new twist to family emergency scam

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — A local couple said scammers almost took them for thousands by using their personal information to create a family emergency that seemed all too real.

Consumer investigator Todd Ulrich, found the scheme can be powerful during a pandemic.

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“Oh, I was horrified because my son is not in my control,” Rob Fischer said.

Fischer feared the worst, after a frantic phone call from his wife who was working out of state. She said their son, Christopher, had just called her cell and he was behind bars.

“He said, ‘Mom I’ve been in an accident and I’ve been arrested and I went to the hospital,’” Rob Fischer said.

His wife was also told their son, Christopher, faced DUI charges and his cellphone had been confiscated.

Then she said a public defender called about posting bail.

Fischer called the number and thought he reached a law office, where an attorney told him bail was $90,000.

“And we had to come up with 10% of that, so it was $9,000,” Rob Fischer said.

Then the attorney told him since the COVID-19 crisis, his office processed the bond and he needed his bank account information.

That's when Fischer suspected a scam. He admits it almost worked because his wife thought their son made that call and the bad guys knew so much about him and their lives.

“All that personal information and it was used against us to create this event,” Rob Fischer said.

The information comes from social media, what families and friends share online and from hacking emails.

All the personal information can be powerful.

Consumer experts say the scammers’ tricks include impersonating a loved one, playing on your emotions and insisting you wire money right away.

And with tensions already running high during a pandemic, many consumers could be vulnerable.

“Even though law enforcement and local and state agencies may have had to find new ways of doing business during a pandemic, if your loved one has been arrested or is in a terrible situation, you’re not going to get a cold call demanding payment,” said BBB president Holly Salmons.

Rob Fischer never turned over his bank account information.

He and his son Christopher are disturbed by how much personal information is out there that can trigger a phony family emergency.

“It’s scary. It’s not surprising,” Christopher Fischer said.

“It probably took a year off my life,” Rob Fischer said.

You can file a police report but chances are it won’t amount to much.

But make sure you file a complaint with the Florida attorney general and the Federal Trade Commission, both agencies track widespread patterns that can trigger serious investigations.