It works by playing on people's loyalties, but leaves the victims wondering who, if anyone, they can trust.
For Noralee Weinstein trouble came with a simple phone call one morning two months ago. On the other end of the line was a man who sounded like her nephew Clifford, saying he was in a jam and in jail in Mexico.
"Then he got very upset on the phone, a crying spell," said Weinstein. "I said, 'Clifford wait a minute. Where are you?'"
But it wasn't Clifford and his lawyer but a pair of scammers based in Canada. In the end, the call convinced the normally prudent Weinsteins to wire more than $6500 via Western Union.
"If your nephew is in jail and needs money, how would anyone else react? You get the money. I whizzed out of here like a crazy person," said Weinstein.
Cherry Hill Police Lieutenant Bill Kushina says there have been several similar phone scams targeting elderly residents in Cherry Hill recently.
"It usually involves a grandson or nephew to get out of a jail that is out of the country," said Kushina. "And they need money to get out of jail."
One mystery: how do the crooks know enough to be plausible? One theory is that in some cases they data mine information off social media. Whatever the case, both the Weinsteins and police want people to be careful.
Police say the lesson from this case is to verify before you react. If someone out of the blue wants you to wire money, independently verify the situation first. Is your cousin or nephew or whoever really in a jam? If so, then find out from authorities what to do next.