Vacation scam alert

As people head off on summer vacations, they should be aware con artists have come up with a new twist on an old financial fraud - the "grandparent scam" - that exploits the information tourists post on the Internet during their travel adventures.

Using data from social networking sites, such as vacation photos posted on Facebook, criminals are targeting the vacationers' family members - particularly the elderly ones - with bogus calls about loved ones injured, jailed or otherwise caught in a jam during their trips.

Hundreds of Floridians were persuaded last year alone to wire huge sums of money to "rescue" their relatives from nonexistent predicaments, according to one money transfer company.

The scam, which targets travelers and relatives of all ages, amounts to millions of dollars per year nationwide.

"When families go on vacation, they don't do their relatives any favors when they post Facebook pictures and tell everyone how long they'll be gone," said Barbara Fore, an elder-related-crimes investigator for the Seminole County Sheriff's Office. "Criminals are monitoring things like Facebook all the time, and they can often find out just about everything they need to know to run their cons."

The grandparent scam is not new, but the social media connection is an emerging trend, according to MoneyGram International Inc., a Dallas-based money wire services company. Nearly one-third of consumers ages 18 to 49 reveal details of their vacations online, which criminals can exploit, according to a recent survey sponsored by the company.

Distributed by MCT Information Services