If you take away nothing else from this notice, just know that if someone asks you to go buy multiple gift cards, and you do not know the person, it is almost always a scam.
Every year, the Upper Allen Township Police Department investigates frauds and scams involving hundreds of thousands of dollars lost by our citizens. These scams vary in their style, but they typically start over the phone and senior citizens are the usual targets. Regardless of how the scam is perpetrated, if someone asks you to purchase gift cards from companies such as Google Play, iTunes, Green Dot, or Walmart, and then scratch off the number on the back and provide it over the phone, it is guaranteed to be a scam.
This notice is meant to introduce you to some of the more common scams and ways to avoid becoming a victim.
Currently, the most popular scam out there begins with a phone call from a fake tech support company. This company, with a generic sounding tech support name, will trick the victim into giving them remote access to work on the victim’s computer. They will accept payment for a service and then call back saying they overcharged the victim and are refunding the excess. Since remote access had already been given, the scammer will show the victim a webpage of their bank account that shows an over-refund of several thousand dollars. The scammer then instructs the victim to purchase gift cards from various stores, scratch off the gift card number and PIN, then provide those numbers over the phone. Once this is done, the gift cards are immediately redeemed, and that money is gone forever and very difficult for police to track. This scam works because the victim truly sees more money in their checking account, but what they don’t realize is that the scammer transferred money from their savings account or took a cash advance on the victim’s credit card to make it appear they deposited too much money, when it was the victim’s money all along.
Other scams may sound like this:
- “You have an outstanding debt.”
- “Please confirm your Medicare number.”
- “There was a problem with your tax return.”
- “Grandma, I’m in jail in Mexico and need bail money. Don’t tell dad.”
- “You’ve won the sweepstakes, now you just need to pay the taxes.”
- “We have a warrant for your arrest.”
Regardless of how the scam begins, if it ends with a request for gift cards or a wire transfer, it is a scam.
Here are some tips for ensuring you do not become the next victim:
- Don’t answer the phone if you don’t recognize the number
- Ask yourself if it sounds legitimate or if it is too good to be true
- Let a family member know and ask for their opinion
- Remember that the IRS will not call you, but rather mail important documents
- Be suspicious of someone who sounds like they are in a call center and reading from a script
- Note that multiple reports have been made that scammers often speak with a foreign accent
- NEVER allow someone to remotely control your computer
If you do not believe that you would ever fall victim to one of these scams, please consider taking a few minutes to talk to your parents, grandparents, or neighbors who may be more vulnerable. We hope to keep Upper Allen residents from becoming fraud victims through increased awareness and prevention education.
The Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General has a Senior Protection Helpline that can be reached by calling 866-623-2137.