GIFT CARDS – NOW A SCAMMERS BEST FRIEND 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. But…gift cards and reload cards are now officially the favorite method of scammers to steal our money. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reported on October 16, 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% 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. In fact, the FTC, which takes complaints on scams from across the nation, tells us 42% of folks who paid a scammer with a gift card used 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 reveal the alpha-numeric code on the reverse side of such cards, and read it to the crook calling the victim. 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. And just yesterday, a Clinton man found how quickly one can lose $5000 in one of these gift card scams. I’ll call the man Marvin, not his real name. Marvin stayed home from work yesterday, feeling ill. He noticed many calls coming into his cellphone 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 up 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 $5000. 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. Once Marvin allowed them access to his computer and online banking, they manipulated the record to show what they wanted Marvin to believe. 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. DEFENSIVE DRIVING COURSE I’m continuing to beat the drum to draw attention to our offering of a defensive driving class for seniors. Seniors vs. Crime, along with AARP and Clinton Community College, sponsors a defensive driving course again this fall. This session is scheduled for November 13, from 10 am to 3 pm, at the Technology Center at 1951 Manufacturing Drive. This is a classroom exercise, with a very fine hot lunch, furnished by Seniors vs. Crime. The instruction will review safe driving habits, learn how to compensate for changes in vision, hearing and reaction times, how to handle driving problems such as aggressive drivers, and understanding modern safety devices like anti-lock brakes and air bags. I always receive very positive feedback on this class. To register, call 563-244-7100. Cost for AARP members is $15, for non-members is $20. 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, 563-242-9211 extension 4433, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.