The holiday season is fast approaching. Scammers know this and will enhance their efforts to steal your identity, personal information, and money leading up to the holidays.

One key scam that is on the rise are phone calls, text messages, and emails, claiming that they have kidnapped a loved one such as a child or grandchild, or they are in some sort of trouble. This is a topic that was raised at the recent International Association of Emergency Managers Conference in Long Beach, California. Yes, emergency managers are talking about this issue as these kinds of bad actors swoop in in the wake of a disaster such as a flood, a hurricane, or an earthquake.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, imposter scams were the most common type of fraud last year in the United States. These scams involve people who say a loved one is in some sort of trouble. The scams can include impersonators from law enforcement, utility companies, tech support and others who claim to need money or personal information to help the loved one.

Imposter scams these days are using Artificial Intelligence or AI that mimics the voice of a loved one. Hence, it is important to establish what is called – a safe word.

How to Establish a Safe Word

A ‘safe word’ can be a phrase, word or particular question that only you and your loved one knows, but the criminal does not. So if you are contacted about a loved one that is some form of trouble, you can ask the fraudster or your loved one for the ‘safe word’.

Now taking that phone call, text, or email about a loved one in distress can be and often is stressful. Your immediate reaction is to act fast and the fraudster artfully plays on those kinds of emotions. According to the non-profit Identity Theft Resource Center, it is important to take a deep breath and be skeptical. Ask questions, particularly to talk with your loved one.

In addition, try to reach your loved one directly or through a friend or someone else who knows them. When the person asks for money or gift cards, that is a red flag – never send money or share a bank account number.

Recall that you can no longer trust caller ID. These bad actors can spoof a phone number to make it look like it is coming from your loved one or a person of authority like law enforcement.

As the holidays approach, discuss use of a safe word with your family. Putting a safe word into place will offer a sense of peace-of-mind, knowing you have this kind of insurance in hand. And remember; avoid answering a phone call, text or email from someone you do not know is also solid insurance to avoid being scammed.