Prairie du Sac resident Sherri Roberts is out $200 due to a scam involving iTunes gift cards. But thanks to some observant Walgreens staff, Roberts wasn’t taken for much more.
“It could have been a lot worse,” Roberts said. “They could have drained my entire bank account if I hadn’t called the bank immediately and closed my account.”
According to Roberts, she received a call earlier this month where she was told she had been selected for a grant by the United States Department of Agriculture.
“I was instructed to go to Walgreens or some other place that carried iTunes cards, and purchase two, $100 cards,” Roberts said. “Then I was supposed to give them the numbers off the back. Then, according to them, if I gave them my bank routing number and account number, all this money for the grant would be deposited into my account, and the money for the cards was supposed to be reimbursed to me.”
Roberts was on the telephone with the scammers for a total of two hours, in which she went to the store once, and then was instructed to return. But during her second visit to Walgreens, Roberts was told to purchase another $750 worth of the iTunes gift cards. While in the process of doing just that, three Walgreens employees told Roberts she was being scammed.
“What they do is take these cards and use them for whatever. You are buying iTunes cards for them, essentially, and they wipe them out as soon as possible, which is why they try to keep you on the phone as long as possible,” Roberts said.
One female employee tipped Roberts off that she had seen a few people in that same week falling victim to the same con. A few more staff rallied around Roberts, who eventually hung up on the scammer.
“They were very good, very helpful,” Roberts said of the staff.
At one point, Roberts handed her phone to the cashier, and the person Roberts was on the phone with refused to talk to the employee. The unidentified male even went as far as to tell Roberts not to talk to the employees and to tell them what she was doing was personal.
“Finally I had had it,” Robert said. “I told the guy that if he couldn’t give me a number or website for the program I was no longer going to talk with him.”
The male caller then told Roberts she would be liable for $375 in fines if she didn’t complete the transaction.
“I told him that I was not liable and that our conversation was over,” Roberts said.
When the gravity of the situation set in, Roberts remembered the unidentified caller had her bank account and routing number, and immediately called her bank to notify them of what had just occurred. Fortunately, the account was closed before any more of Roberts’ funds could be withdrawn. Although she was out the $200 and had the hassle of setting up a new bank account, Roberts said she is thankful she wasn’t worse off.
“They could have drained my entire bank account,” Roberts said.
Unfortunately, Roberts isn’t alone. According to Det. Paul Deuman with the Sauk Prairie Police Department, the department receives an average of at least one call or complaint involving a scam each day. Deuman said scams can stem from Craiglist, a telephone call, over the Internet and even warrant scams.
“We had this one guy who purchased a car worth about $35,000 for $10,000 on Craiglist,” Deuman said. “The guy gives him $10,000 cash and he gets the car. But later the car is reported stolen and the kid is out the money and the car goes back to its rightful owner.”
Deuman said in Roberts’ situation, as is typical of many, the perpetrators are hard to catch. They use fake names and telephone numbers, making catching them almost impossible.
Deuman said people are also getting scammed with money transfers through Western Union.
“People don’t realize that money can be picked up at any Western Union anywhere in the world,” he said.
In another case, Deuman said a woman was scammed out of $25,000. But usually it’s for smaller amounts.
“We had another case where a person wanted to buy a British bulldog from Great Britian,” Deuman said. “They were instructed to send $2,000 to hold the puppy. Then after a while, they needed $500 to fly the dog to them. Then they told the person the flight actually cost more than they thought because of taxes. Before they knew it, they were out $3,500 and never got the dog.”
Roberts said she feels embarrassed this happened to her but wanted other people to know what she went through with the hope her story will help someone else.
“I feel pretty stupid,” Robert said. “But I guess it’s really rampant.”
Deuman said unless you are on a secure site and know or can verify who you are interacting with never give out your personal information such as date of birth, driver’s license and especially bank account information.
“I read somewhere that scams are a billion dollar-a-day business,” Deuman said.
What’s more, scammers will often try to target the elderly who might not be as tech savvy or as knowledagble of scammers. And, Deuman said, they will try to use scare tactics sometimes if they aren’t getting the results they want.
“We’ve had it where people are being threatened with jail or that they will contact local law enforcement,” Deuman said. “Nobody wants to be in trouble, so that’s what they play on. But people have to remember we’re not in the business of threatening anybody. We’re not going to call and say, hey, you owe this and if you don’t pay it, we’re going to send you to jail. You know if you’ve done something wrong and you would likely receive something from us in the mail on our letterhead.”
Deuman said if a person is unsure about a call or e-mail, they should always check it out, look it up to see if it’s a legitimate business or organization.
“The bottom line is anything over the phone or Internet, if you can’t verify it, don’t do it,” Deuman said.