Beware of Bail Bond Scams

Scammers are ruthless individuals who don’t care whose money they’re stealing.  One of the worst is the Grandparents Scam.  It involves the unscrupulous scammer posing as the grandchild of the victim, telling an elaborate tale that usually ends with the grandchild in jail in need of bail money.  What grandparent wouldn’t want to help their grandchild get out of jail?

When the “grandchild” calls, he (or she) sounds distressed and calls from a noisy location to help disguise his voice.  Sometimes there are two people, the grandchild and a law enforcement agent who gets on the line to explain the payment procedures.  The scammers usually have personal information that makes the scam more convincing, information that is easily found on Facebook or elsewhere on the internet or that they’ve bought or stolen, but they can be believable even with little or no information.  Scammers call random numbers until they get someone who sounds like a senior citizen, and they say something like, “Hi, Grandpa, it’s your favorite grandchild” or “Grandma, it’s your grandson” and the grandparent assumes it’s whatever grandchild the scammer sounds most like.

Once the scammer has convinced his victim that he is the grandchild, he will then say he needs money to be wire transferred to pay for the bond.  They may ask for a credit card number or bank account number, and in some cases, they have even asked for gift cards from stores like Walmart, Target, and Best Buy.  After you buy the gift cards and give the scammer the information on the cards, the scammer accesses the money on the cards and they’re never heard from again.

In another scam that’s been popping up, a scammer claims to be a law enforcement agent with a warrant for the arrest of you or a loved one.  The victim is told, of course, that he or she can pay bail over the phone using a credit card or bank account numbers, or in some cases, for even more money, the police officer can drop the charges.

In a similar scam, the thief claims to be a bail bondsman and the victims are people who have been released on a bond.  The fake bail agent claims there were additional charges or fees that were missed, and that more money is needed to cover it or the defendant will have to return to jail.  These scams are particularly hard to spot because the scammers have inside information:  who was released and who posted the bond.  Although these scams could be perpetrated by employees of the jails or sheriff’s department, it is more likely that their computer systems were inadvertently infected with spyware.

The best defense against these or any scams is to always be skeptical.  If you receive a suspicious call, get all of the information you can from them and tell them you’ll call them back.  This may be enough to scare them away, but if there’s a chance your grandchild or loved one needs help, call them directly.  If you can’t get in touch with them, call someone else who is close to them who can verify their situation.

Never wire money to anyone until you have verified with an independent party that the call is legitimate.  If it’s from law enforcement or a bail bondsman, call their offices directly, getting the phone number from the internet or a phone book.  If your grandchild is in jail, find out which jail and call them directly and ask if they’ve been arrested.

Never give out credit card numbers or bank account information or any personal information over the phone without verifying with a third party that it’s legitimate.

Never meet with a bail bondsman at a restaurant, parking lot, or an office that doesn’t look like a permanent, legitimate office.  A licensed bail bondsman can only do business from his office so if they ask to meet you anywhere else it should be a big red flag.

If you’ve been victim to a scam and have wired money, call the company that you used to wire the money immediately because there may be time to reverse the transaction.  If you’ve received a call from your bail bondsman asking for more money, hang up and call him directly.  File a complaint with your local police department and report it to the Federal Trade Commission.

Scammers prey on your love and willingness to help a loved one in need, so if you receive a call from someone needing your help, remember these three words:  verify, verify, VERIFY!