Attorney General Linda Kelly today cautioned Pennsylvania consumers to be wary of aggressive financial scams involving calls or electronic messages from criminals masquerading as desperate relatives in need of assistance.

"The holiday season is a popular time for distant family members to reach out and connect with loved ones and some scam artists are trying to twist that to their advantage," Kelly said in a news release. "A call, email or text message for help from someone claiming to be a relative in need can be used to convince potential victims to act quickly, sending money without carefully evaluating the situation."

Kelly noted that the telephone version of these scams is often targeted at older residents, with callers often claiming to be grandchildren.  Internet versions are typically targeted at younger victims, often using hijacked Facebook or email accounts to solicit help from "friends."

"The exact story told by con artists can vary, but all of these scams revolve around getting the victims to send money, typically in the form of a wire transfer," Kelly said. "These crooks – who are typically working from outside the United States – understand that wire transfers can be quickly intercepted and are difficult to trace or recover."

Although the scams vary, several common themes are popular such as claims that family members have been involved in an accident while traveling and need money for car repairs or medical treatment, that loved ones have been delayed while traveling and need assistance paying for overnight lodging or alternative transportation, or that airline or train tickets have been stolen and friends or relatives need cash to purchase replacements. Some con artists pretend to be hospital officials or police officers seeking help on behalf of the relative, Kelly said.

Consumers with questions or problems should contact the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Hotline at 1-800-441-2555 or file an online consumer complaint using the Attorney General's website: Anyone who has lost money as the result of these scams should contact their local police department and the nearest regional FBI office to file a  report, Kelly said.