Gift Card Scam
There is a scam call, text, or website that recruits people to buy gift cards (as a “mystery shopper") at stores (often specifically Amazon gift cards). The scammer sends a check or money order to fund the first purchase. The scammer tells the victim to buy a certain amount of gift cards and keep the rest of the money. The first check may or may not be or real value. In any case it lures the victim in to the gift card scam.
Once the gift cards are bought, the victim calls in the gift card numbers and tosses those cards. The scammer now has the gift card numbers to cash in or use. They have “hooked” the victim to repeat the purchase after sending another check.
The checks and money orders – they are fake (the first one may or may not be fake - might be "the bait"). They are prior used or bogus postal money orders, bogus checks, and other type “payments” - you deposit it in your bank, take out cash and get dinged later when the payment bounces. They go to great lengths to make everything look very real and very professional to a first glance. Take time to scrutinize them carefully and you can start to see inconsistencies.
The postal money orders – take them to the post office and ask The Postmaster to verify the validity. Only the Postmaster can check them, not the clerks. It will usually be a copy of one that was previously cashed, or just a fake. In our case (a relative was scammed this way), there were two money orders with the same number – 2 copies of the same money order, and it was already cashed by someone else long before.
Checks – they are often bogus. They look real on the surface. Look at it – if it “has a watermark” but you can see it clearly by just looking at the check, it’s not a watermark. A watermark is seen only when looking through the paper at a light behind it at an angle, not printed ink. Checks would have a check number that must match the routing check number below (they probably don’t match). There is a company that is the payee – call that company and ask then about the check, but do NOT call the phone number on the check (if there is one). Google the company and call it directly. There are so many other ways to carefully check inconsistencies in a check.
Believe me – this relative got scammed into this scheme, and I was tasked with helping. We went to the bank that the “checks” were cashed at, and we talked to the head guy in charge of scams. He explained a lot about how the checks are obviously (to him) bogus. He said yes, the funds will be taken from the bank account because the bank fronted the money. We could come back after they post out and he would take the penalty fees out. Had it gone to a negative balance in the account, he would have made a repayment plan to get the money back to repay the bank. It pays to talk to the bank to let them help you.
The scammers are very insistent. In this case, they sent the first check and got the gift card numbers. As soon as happened, they sent a Priority Mail package with 2 Postal Money Orders in it (yes, the same routing number on them). They were also cashed as if real at the bank, and the bank gave cash for them. The 4th and 5th checks - is when I realized in a conversation that this scam was going on. I said DO NOT CASH ANOTHER. The scammers called to push the cashing of those – but thankfully the car was in the shop getting repaired. He told the scammers he can’t drive to do anything. They called back and said call an UBER and they will reimburse it. At that point I was able to say block them on the phone (on advice from FBI).
The FBI does not take these scams on for a few thousand dollars of loss – they deal with high amounts. Local police might be able to help, but in the most likely case, nothing can be done because the scammers are not even in the country. They might have help in the country, but not traceable. Someone is dropping the mail (priority mail) in the US, to make it seem more credible. Someone made copies of US money orders.
The problem is that once a check or money order is cashed, it could take weeks or even months for the bounced payment to show up in a bank statement. For all the time it takes, the victim thinks everything is fine. Meanwhile the bank will try to recover the lost funds when it finds out about the unpaid checks.
Once you realize it’s a scam, block the phone number and go silent on them. You might change your phone number, as they will likely sell the number to other scammers (they have flagged you as a real person who falls for scams). At the very least – DO NOT ANSWER ANY CALLS FROM NUMBERS YOU DON’T KNOW - EVER. A real person will leave you a message and you can call back if it's a legitimate person, a friend or family member.
If something sounds too good to be true – it usually is! Run from it!
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