With spring arriving, the Cincinnati Better Business bureau is out with a new alert, warning that it is receiving more complaints than ever this year about phone scams involving gift cards.
It happened to Shawncea Colvin of Cincinnati, buying a used car online last year.
"I put $200 on one gift card, and $100 on another," she told us, after the person allegedly selling the car asked her to send eBay gift cards as a deposit. She never heard from them again.
It also happened to Mary Cullick, after a caller claiming to be from Social Security told her to pay off a past debt with gift cards.
"The man said to get two gift cards, at $500 each," she told us. She paid the Social Security "agent" $1,000 before realizing she had been scammed.
Complaints soar about threatening calls
The Better Business Bureau is now issuing a warning, after an alarming number of recent complaints about gift card scams, resulting from threatening phone calls.
Sara Kemerer of the Cincinnati Better Business Bureau wants everyone to know about these scams, so that they don't fall for one.
"Scammers will say that gift cards are the easiest form of payment and the safest," she said, "when in reality they are the most dangerous form of payment."
Kemerer says scammers will call you about something"urgent," then get victims to buy gift cards to make the problem go away.
The BBB says they pretend to be:
- IRS or Social Security agents, claiming you will be arrested if you don't pay them immediately.
- Sheriff's deputies, also claiming there is a warrant out for your arrest.
- Bank officials, saying your account has been locked.
- Duke (or other utility) energy workers, claiming your electric will be shut off if you don't pay a back bill immediately with gift cards.
"They most often pose as a utility company, or law enforcement agency," she said.
The BBB says most phone scams don't involve debit or credit cards, because it is so easy to trace those numbers and catch the scammer.
Rather, the caller instructs you to buy untraceable gift cards.
"Once you read the numbers off the gift card or take a picture and send it to someone, that money is gone forever," Kemerer said.
One bit of hope: Arizona grocery stores and CVS pharmacies, in cooperation with the state Attorney General, are putting up red stop signs in their gift card displays, warning that gift cards cannot be used to pay government agencies.
Hopefully that idea will soon come to Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky.
Finally, while you may say you know better than to fall for this, your elderly relatives may not. So warn them about phone scams, so you don't waste your money.
Don't Waste Your Money" is a registered trademark of Scripps Media, Inc. ("Scripps").
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