Gift Card Scams—A Cautionary Tale
My friend Johanna was worried about her sister Christine, who is 73 and lives alone in a different state from Johanna. Christine, smart, active, independent and leader in her community, had just fallen for an Internet scam.
Christine had just gotten on her computer to fill out an important document that she was on deadline to submit. All of a sudden, her computer froze and a big sign came on her screen that said “Your computer is locked because you have been hacked”
Of course, like anyone would, she panicked! She got another message saying: “You cannot access your computer until you get in touch with Microsoft” There was a number on her screen which looked like Microsoft number. So, she did what many of us would have done. She called the number. Someone “from Microsoft” (or so she thought) answered. Good news, she thought! They were able to fix it right away. They guy asked for access to her computer. Christine, worried about getting her report in on time, said yes. She knew there was something wrong, but her fear of not getting the report in trumped everything . Plus, she didn’t think she was good at computers, so she needed to trust the guy who said he could save her.
“Mr. Microsoft” told her that her computer was hacked and she was going to have to reset it. “Good news,” he said. “Because you are Microsoft customer, I’ll only charge you $500.” “But, because your computer has been hacked, we can’t take your credit card over the phone.
You need to go to the nearest Microsoft store. Oh, there isn’t one in your neighborhood. So, there is one thing you can do. You can buy a $500 gift card from Google. You can buy them from most grocery stores.”
Red flag? Not yet…..
Christine told the guy to wait. He stayed on her computer for 45 min while she ran over to her local store--Albertsons. Amazingly, the quick-thinking cashier from Albertsons saw a red flag.
She told Christine that in the last few weeks, she had several customers who came in and bought cards and came back and said it was a scam. Ding, ding, ding. Finally Christine realized what was going on. She came home and the guy was still there on her computer. She quickly disconnected and told him she knew it was a scam.
Christine spent days at her local computer store removing malware and resetting the computer
She spent more time replacing all of her credit cards. And even more time kicking herself for being so susceptible although thankful that she was able to stop it before she didn’t lose her hat.
Christine is not alone. She is not extra vulnerable to scams. Unfortunately, she’s one of thousands who have fallen for the gift card scam. The week after Christine shared her story with me, NPR ran a series of fraud among seniors.
One woman, a registered nurse who exercises regularly and is still very active, got scammed of almost $200,000 in gift cards.
Renowned gerontologist (and friend of Candoo Tech) Mark Lachs was quoted in the NPR story discussing what he calls “age-associated financial vulnerability”. He and his team at Weill Cornell Medicine in NY are working on ways to help identify and prevent this.
We can’t stop all of these scams. But, there are a few things you CAN do:
If you get a suspicious email, check to see if the actual email address looks right. In this example, you may think it’s from Amazon Prime, but check out the email address.
Here’s a scary one. Looks like I needed to do something to address a Microsoft issue. Again, check out the email address.
DO NOT click on or reply to any suspicious email.
NEVER give access to your computer to anyone who you do not know/trust.
If you receive a phone call from someone claiming to be “Microsoft”, “Apple” or even the “IRS”, it’s probably not real. Tell them you will look up the official customer service number and call back.
Contact a trusted source to check out the email or phone call for you. At Candoo Tech, we work closely with our customers to make sure they are avoiding scams. If they see a suspicious email they can call us and we will immediately let them know if it’s real or not.
As for Christine, she says “I’ve had enough scams”. She’s not going to be buying gift cards for strangers again!