"Social networking sites make it easier than ever to sleuth out personal and family information," the FTC says in an online tip sheet.
Call back to confirm the situation, but not to a number given by the scammers. Go online and find out the number of the embassy or police station where the call is supposedly originating.
Don't keep things to yourself. If a loved one is in trouble, it's not a state secret.
"Con artists may insist that you keep their request for money confidential to keep you from checking out their story and identifying them as impostors," the FTC says. "Victims of this scam often don't realize they've been tricked until days later."
If you get one of these calls, report it to officials. It may not result in the scammers' being caught — they're often based in other countries. But it will help investigators know what's happening.
And don't think you're too slick to be conned.
"You get caught up in the moment," Shumovich said. "You're thinking only about your relative. And these guys on the phone are really sophisticated."
You're a winner
Jennifer Parasofski, 44, must be the luckiest person in Southern California. She told me she's been getting about two dozen calls a day informing her that she's won assorted lotteries.
Get breaking news alerts delivered to your mobile phone. Text BREAKING to 52669. You will receive up to 30 msgs/mo. Msg&data rates may apply. Text HELP for help. Text STOP to cancel.
"In some, it's $500,000," the Woodland Hills resident said. "In others it's $2.5 million."
There's a consistent thread to all the calls: In each case, Parasofski is instructed to wire a few thousand bucks to cover taxes and insurance for her winnings.
And in a particularly impressive wrinkle, she said one scammer called to say he was an FBI agent and to advise her not to fall for any bogus lottery scams.
The caller went on to state that his investigation had revealed that Parasofski really did win one lottery, and he could help release the money if she wired him a few thousand bucks to cover taxes and insurance.
She said she reported the calls to the FBI and the Federal Trade Commission. Both agencies said they were powerless to do anything, although the FTC emphasized that no legitimate lottery requires winners to pay cash upfront.
Even so, I'm thinking I can help. All Parasofski has to do is send me a few thousand bucks....
David Lazarus' column runs Tuesdays and Fridays. He also can be seen daily on KTLA-TV Channel 5 and followed on Twitter @Davidlaz. Send your tips or feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.