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Century Park Blog

The Gift Card Scam That Keeps on Taking

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Health Tips

The Gift Card Scam That Keeps on Taking

Quick, answer this question! When will you ever be called, texted, or emailed by someone who is NOT a crook, asking you to run out immediately and buy gift cards and then read the PIN numbers to them over the phone? Repeat after me – NEVER. Criminals are the only people who do this – ever. Not your boss, not your co- worker, not your relative (unless, of course, your relatives are actual criminals, in which case, please get some new relatives).

Just like the Nigerian Prince email scam from decades ago, the gift card scam has been around for many years now, yet some folks still apparently have not heard of it. I wanted to use my “Money Story” column this month to shine some light on this, and I’ll explain why in a minute (keep reading).

For anyone who’s been living under a rock, the Nigerian Prince scam is an email which arrives mysteriously in your inbox one day. Someone claiming to be a prince wants to bring millions of dollars to the U.S., but he needs a helpful citizen with a bank account (you) to transfer the money to America. Just be kind enough to tell him your bank account information, and in return, you’ll be given a commission of hundreds of thousands or even a million dollars or more. Surely nobody is so stupid, greedy, or gullible to fall for this, right? This scam originated as the “Spanish Prisoner” letter dating back to the 19th century, and the Nigerian Prince variation is still raking in over $700,000 per year, unbelievably. Instead of doing something stupid, just report these emails as “phishing” and get on with your day. There’s no generous prince, so wake up.

The gift card scam starts with an email or text message. Someone claiming to be your boss, co-worker or relative asks you to run out immediately and buy some gift cards for some event. They may claim it’s for an employee appreciation party, birthday, retirement, wedding, or baby shower, but you must keep it top secret and don’t tell anyone! Most importantly, it must be done today, in the next hour, so hurry! They say you’ll be reimbursed, of course, very soon. Usually, the request is to buy Green Dot pre-paid Visa cards or Apple gift cards. If you’re naïve or gullible enough to actually drive to the store and buy these cards, the person asks you to tell them the PIN numbers on the back of the cards which is all they need. They will begin spending or selling the cards seconds later. Don’t do it! Just delete the email and report it as a phishing scam, delete and block the text message, or just hang up if it’s a phone call (after perhaps providing a stern tongue-lashing to the miscreant ne’er-do-well on the other end of the line).

My wife is a high-level executive at her company, and there have been dozens of times already that criminals have sent texts and emails to her employees where they claim to be my wife asking them to rush out and buy gift cards. Recently, one employee fell for the scam, rushed out to buy gift cards, provided the PIN numbers to the criminals, and lost $500 of their own money in the process. Remember, only criminals will ask you to do this – so don’t do it!

There are other widespread scams making the rounds in recent years. One is the “grandkid scam.” Listen: your grandkid is NOT being held in jail needing bail money immediately, so just hang up the phone and call your actual grandchild. Other scams involve crooks claiming to be the IRS. But the IRS is NOT on the way to your house to arrest you if you don't wire your tax payment immediately (they don’t call first to warn you). You're welcome. You can thank me later.

Pulled from The Money Story, a monthly column written by Dr. Andrew Lee.

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