WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) – Gift cards are a multi-billion dollar industry. They make great gifts for loved ones, but they can also be a way for crooks to steal your money.
The Better Business Bureau says Americans have lost hundreds of millions of dollars to gift card scams. We found a Kansas woman who learned this the hard way.
It started as a day of email research, but has turned into a day Linda Wescott wishes she could take back.
“It was just easy to get me to believe them,” Wescott said.
She opened her email to find what appeared to be a message from Amazon warning her of a fraud alert, from someone apparently trying to buy a TV and an Xbox. The costs totaled over $ 6,000.
She called the phone number to clear her name.
“To remove it, I had to buy gift cards and they would refund me the gift cards,” Wescott said.
So that’s exactly what she did. She drove from her house in the small town of Auburn to Topeka. She bought various gift cards at department stores, thinking she would get her money back and clear her name. Unfortunately, she spent $ 4,000 before realizing she was being scammed.
“I was already pissed off at the start since I’m my husband’s keeper,” Wescott said. “I was having issues with him in the morning, and when it happened I just wasn’t in the right frame of mind to start thinking it might be a scam.”
She reported the crime to the BBB and the Federal Trade Commission. Sadly, she discovered that when you use gift cards for payment, it’s like cash.
“Once you’ve loaded funds into those gift cards and disclosed that 18-digit card number
to that scammer, they clear those funds immediately, and there’s no recourse, ”said Denise Groene, Kansas BBB.
BBB data shows this scam is growing. In fact, this reported crime tripled between 2017 and 2020. Last year alone, the median average money lost per person was $ 700.
The BBB has found that people 65 and over are more likely to lose money than younger people in this scam.
Bill Ramsey of Soteria Technology Solutions says there are ways to protect yourself from scams.
It recommends that you set up two-factor authentication with your mobile phone to log into one of your accounts. This gives you an extra layer of protection if hackers get their hands on your passwords. But he says you should always watch out for other red flags.
“If someone asks you for money on the internet and you haven’t initiated them, you really have to think twice, otherwise they’re trying to get information from you,” Ramsey said.
Wescott says she would handle it differently if she had the chance.
“Angry at myself for not being more vigilant, realizing I was being scammed, and when I thought I was being scammed I should have turned it off” , she said.
This is why she tells her story, hoping you will listen and not get sucked into this scam.
Watch out for these red flags:
- Government agencies requesting payment. No government agency requests money through gift cards.
- Statements that purchasing gift cards is a safe way to make payment. Providing gift card numbers is like sending money, and the money is rarely collectable. Gift card payment requests are a big red flag for a scam.
- Keep the receipt when purchasing a gift card. Also keep the physical card. These can help prove that the card has been paid for and activated if issues arise later.
- Inspect the card carefully before purchasing it to make sure it has not been tampered with. Some crooks open the card to get the numbers on the reverse side so they can take the money when the card is activated later.
Who to contact if you are the victim of a gift card scam:
- Victims should immediately notify the card issuer as soon as they realize that they have purchased gift cards and provided the numbers to scammers or have purchased gift cards with no balance. There is usually a customer service number on the back of the card.
- Better Business Bureau – file a complaint with your BBB location if you have lost money or report an online scam at BBB.org/scamtracker.
- Federal Trade Commission (FTC) – file a complaint online on reportfraud.ftc.gov or call 877-FTC-Help.
- Internet Crime Claim Enter (IC3) – file a complaint online on ic3.gov/complaint.
- Consumer Financial Protection Agency file a complaint online at consumerfinance.gov/complaint or call (855) 411-2372
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