A man in Troy, Michigan, got a phone call from someone who called himself Alex Wade.
Wade, who said he worked at Amazon, claimed that a drastic mistake took place in which too much money had been refunded from a purchase and deposited into the man’s bank account.
The man needed to pay back the money or he’d be in big trouble. Wade suggested that the man buy eBay gift cards at a variety of stores, including Walmart, CVS Pharmacy and 7-Eleven.
Was there really a big problem? The caller convinced the man that he needed to rush out to fix things right away.
“The victim never called his bank account to confirm this,” said Sgt. Meghan Lehman, a police department public information officer in Troy.
The 69-year-old man put $1,300 on the eBay gift cards. He spent more money after facing more pressure tactics. The man lost $6,000 before realizing he had been scammed.
The first thing on the to-do list of a scammer is to pretend to be someone else. Maybe the caller pretends to be from the Internal Revenue Service. Maybe it’s someone pretending to be from the Social Security Administration. Maybe it’s someone pretending to be from the 2020 census.
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Or maybe it’s someone claiming to be from Apple Support.
The impostor scam was the most common type of scam reported in 2019 to the Federal Trade Commission. Consumers reported losing nearly $667 million to impostor scams.
Nearly half of U.S. adults have been targets of an impostor scam, according to a new survey by AARP Research. Nearly one in five experienced health problems or emotional distress from being victimized or targeted.
Three in five adults are concerned that they – or a family member – could fall victim to a scam, according to the AARP survey.
Amazon warns that specifics of scams vary but scammers generally follow a pattern of connecting with a victim by phone, email, through social media or online. The swindler will create a sense of urgency, ask for payment using gift cards and even tell you where to buy the cards.
“The scammer then demands or instructs the victim to provide the claim code on the gift card by phone, text message or email – and then disappears,” according to Amazon’s warnings.
Signs of financial manipulation are everywhere, even though many people are too embarrassed to file a police report or admit that con artists scared them enough to hand over cash and gift cards.
Another victim in Troy lost $1,360 in early February after someone claiming to be from the FBI told her she would be arrested after some mishap with a vehicle in Texas. The woman bought the gift cards, according to the police report, provided serial numbers from the gift cards to the caller and was out a sizable chunk of savings.
Another woman in Troy lost $1,200 in a gift card scam in late January, according to police reports, when an impostor claimed to be from the Social Security Administration and scared her into thinking that there was a warrant out for her arrest and the matter would be resolved with her being issued a new Social Security number.
Police departments say they see more of these scams every day. All sorts of people can become victims.
“We’ve had young people, old people, people who are new to the country, people who were born here,” Lehman said. “These scammers are getting more skilled.”
Consumer watchdogs warn that the 2020 presidential election, as well as the census, could bring new variations of old scams.
Fraudsters use phony political fundraising robocalls to trick Americans into “donating” to a favorite candidate, according to warnings from the Better Business Bureau.
“If you offer to give, you’ll be transferred to a live person and asked for your credit card information. But your money won’t go to support the political cause. Instead, the phony caller will make off with your money and/or personal information that can be used for identity theft,” according to the BBB warning.
The calls can sound pretty convincing. Con artists work overtime at being believable. But remember, only the crooks demand you buy them gift cards.
ContactSusan Tompor: 313-222-8876 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter@tompor. Read more on business and sign up for our business newsletter.