When someone emails or calls offering to fix a computer by sending gift cards in payment, “Don’t fall for it,” local police said. That’s because it likely is a scam and such incidents are on the rise.
In a recent case, a woman received a call from someone claiming to be from Apple Inc., and that hackers had gotten into her computer, according to Bainbridge police. The scammers promised to fix the problem. She was instructed to buy gift cards to pay for the repairs. She bought a number of gift cards and gave them the numbers as requested, but they demanded more. In the end, she sent $8,000 worth of gift cards to the scammers, police said.
Law-enforcement officers advise that if anyone gets a call or email requesting gift cards or codes from the gift cards to pay for anything, it is a scam. Gift cards are difficult to trace. In any case, call police if you are unsure of the situation, Bainbridge Police Chief Jon Bokovitz said.
Common scams involve the caller saying the individual’s child or grandchild is in jail somewhere and to send gift cards or wire money for the relative’s release. Another one involves a caller who seems credible asking for information on the person’s Medicare including account numbers, Social Security numbers and other information. Never give out this information.
Chief Bokowitz said police don’t know how many scams are going on. “We only know when people call us about it.”
If someone thinks it is a scam, his advice is to call the police department and report it. One way to protect yourself is ask for the instructions in writing, Chief Bokovitz said. “No legitimate business takes gift cards for payments.”
Bainbridge Police Det. Chris Smith said earlier this year a resident received a pop-up on his computer saying that the computer was locked and had a virus. He was told it could be fixed. He contacted them and they took over his computer. They had him pay $2,000 in cash and his computer worked fine for a month or so.
They had him check his accounts while they were on the phone, and they then had access to his account information. They remotely accessed his computer and his home equity loan and checking account. Ultimately, the person from Taiwan swindled him out of more than $50,000.
It is difficult for investigators to track those cases, Det. Smith said. A lot of times the scammers are out of the country. “They can purchase high-end merchandise immediately with the gift cards and the victim is out the money,” he said. Scammers often keep contacting the victim for more money.
Det. Smith advises that if a link is received on your computer that says something is wrong, don’t call the phone number and never send any money.
Find the customer service number for the business on a legitimate listing and contact them directly to see if they made the contact, he said.
“If you receive something that is questionable, like an email, phone contact or text, call the local law enforcement officer who can advise if it is valid,” Det. Smith said.
In a recent incident, a woman came to the police station on Aug. 1 with a recent and suspicious email from her bank, asking her to update her income and personal information online. She went to her bank to verify it, and they advised the email was not from them.
Det. Smith called it a phishing email in which the scammers were trying to see if someone would respond. The resident did the right thing by checking it out, thereby not losing money.
Chagrin Falls Police Chief Amber Dacek said fortunately in Chagrin Falls many people recognize the attempts to scam them and report it to the police department. Some years ago, they had an incident in which an individual sent a couple thousand dollars to a scammer and the police department was able to track it and intercept it, recovering the money.
The thieves look for people who are vulnerable and go after them, she said. They prey on people’s emotions and they make it sound believable, she added.
“Legitimate businesses don’t call and make threats and don’t demand money in a threatening way such as putting you in jail,” Chief Dacek said.
Geauga County Sheriff’s Office Lt. John Hiscox said chances of recovering any money given to the scammers is not likely. “These aren’t amateurs,” he said. “Scams happen weekly,” he said. In one scam, the caller says Social Security claims the potential victim is delinquent in paying taxes and they will not accept checks. The person is instructed to go to Walmart and buy gift cards that can that can be accepted.
“They take advantage of good and law-abiding people including the elderly,” he said.
The scammers prey on fear, such as with a notice that something should be paid or an arrest warrant will be issued, he said adding that taxes and student loans are common subjects in those scams.
They can also play on greed. The person is told that a police officer has confirmed that the person is a lucky winner of a lottery. They request $4,800 in a bank check or gift cards as a fee for the $3 million lottery prize. Lt. Hiscox concluded, “When in doubt check it out.”