Stolen contact lists, e-gift cards: scammers prey on friendships

KOLO 8 News Now's Ed Pearce recounts the latest scam of people posing as a friend and asking for got cards.
Published: Jan. 5, 2022 at 6:07 PM PST
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GARDNERVILLE, Nev. (KOLO) -Gift cards are a quick easy risk-free way to handle a last-minute birthday gift, something that’s always welcome and never needs returning.

They’re also a scam artist’s best friend, a sure-fire, quick, untraceable payoff. A general rule is if someone is asking you to pay for something or settle a debt, it’s an immediate red flag. But they are also available on the internet where today’s scammers troll and if they can pose as someone else, someone you trust, they’re halfway home.

Penelope Wright got an email which appeared to be from a friend in Oregon, asking if she bought things on Amazon, She was not a regular customer, she replied, why are you asking?

Her supposed friend apologized and explained he was trying to buy a $200 dollar gift card for someone he knew, a woman having a birthday that very day, and, he added she was battling cancer. There was a problem with his bank card which was going to take days to straighten out. Could she buy the card, send it to the woman? He’d reimburse her later.

There were a few subtle warning signs. The email was sent early in the morning and it came from the friend’s husband, not his wife with whom she was closer. There were also some slight grammatical errors in the emails, but, all-in-all, she was inclined to help her friend.

”I had written the $200 and then my husband came into the room and I said, ‘Why don’t you call Keith and make sure this is okay?’ And so he found him and he said “He says he doesn’t know anything about it.”

The scammers had hacked the friend’s contact list, It’s likely everyone on it received the same plea. It’s not known how many may have fallen for it,

“The scammers are playing on the fact that you’re getting an email or text from somebody you know and so they’re thinking you will engage,” says Tim Johnston of the Better Business Bureau. “That’s what they’re playing on.”

The lesson: a request for a gift card, even an e-gift card, is still a red flag and any out-of-the-ordinary request like this warrants a phone call to make sure it’s really your friend you’re dealing with.

“Just think twice before you send money,” says Penelope Wright, “and if you can possibly verify stuff by phone, there’s no harm in calling people if you’ve got a phone number.”

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