Randy Meier

Randy Meier

Go into almost any supermarket, pharmacy, convenience store, or other “big box” location, and it is hard not to see the wide variety of gift cards and reload cards offered for sale. A lot of the time, they appear on the endcaps, or the ends of the aisles. 

Gift cards seem like a pretty convenient way to give a gift — they sure give us a broad selection of options for giving. 

However, gift cards and reload cards are now officially the favorite method of scammers to steal our money. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reported in October that gift cards are the number one payment method scammers or imposter demand. The number of crooks wanting to get paid with gift cards increased 270 percent since 2015. 

But not all gift cards are created equal in the eyes of these crooks. They are not demanding payment in Pizza Ranch gift cards. The crooks greatly prefer cards from major retailers, like Target, Walmart, or Best Buy. Or even better, they seem to favor iTunes or Google Play cards. 

Folks who get scammed in these iTunes or Google Play scams wonder how they lose their money when they retain the card in their hands. It’s pretty simple. The criminals persuade their victims to read the alpha-numeric code on the reverse side of such cards to them. With that number, the criminal can immediately electronically zap the money off that card to another account, where it disappears forever. 

How do you recognize a scam? You don’t need to know all the different kind of scams, or the various imposters who contact us, trying to defraud us. Just know this — if someone calls you and wants you to go out and buy a gift card, it is a scam. Every time. No exceptions. When you find yourself peeling back that gummy adhesive on the reverse side of these cards while you are talking to a stranger on the phone, you are a couple of seconds away from getting fleeced. 

Recently a Clinton man found how quickly one can lose $5,000 in one of these gift card scams. I’ll call the man Marvin, not his real name. Marvin stayed home from work because he felt ill. He noticed many calls coming into his cell phone all day long, from out of the area code. 

He finally answered one. 

The caller asked Marvin, “Remember us? we sold you an insurance policy for your computer?” Marvin did remember. In July 2017, he paid $350 to a telemarketer who convinced him he needed insurance on his laptop. The caller told Marvin, his company planned to go out of business, and wanted to refund the $350. The caller persuaded Marvin to go online and open his online banking. With Marvin’s permission, the caller took control of the computer and made it appear he overpaid Marvin for the refund, to the tune of $5,000. Somehow, Marvin needed to pay this back. The caller wanted Marvin to go to Target and Best Buy, and load the maximum amount permitted on gift cards. And Marvin did, then read off the code on the back of the card to the caller. 

Marvin only realized later in the day what really happened, after he called a friend to ask about updating the virus protection on his computer, since his policy got canceled. Marvin’s friend asked a couple of questions, and it became clear this was a scam. 

I call it the tech-support double-tap scam. The people who called Marvin in July 2017 and sold him “insurance” were scammers from the get-go. They bilked him out of $350 then, and now decided to circle back and see how much more was there to take. 

It’s a fairly clever scam. Marvin admits he overlooked some red flags along the way, but the biggest red banner of all was this – scammers wanted payment using a gift card. You don’t need to know all the nuances or intricacies of every scam out there. You just need to know, you never buy a gift card for a stranger.  

Contact Seniors Vs. Crime

Let me know about scams, fraud, or other crookedness you run across. Most of what I learn, I learn from you. Contact me at Seniors vs. Crime, Clinton County Sheriff’s Office, 563-242-921, Ext. 4433, or email me at randymeier@gapa911.us.