Deputy Chief David Clark would like to alert the community to a recent increase in scams urging residents to pay for fraudulent services with gift cards.
Legitimate organizations and businesses will never request payment in the form of gift cards for a service or product.
The Reading Police Department has noticed an increase in recent weeks of residents reporting scam callers that are seeking payment by gift cards, often worth a large sum of money. Common scams that target residents – specifically senior citizens – include:
- IRS Impostors: Callers contact you demanding immediate payment for back taxes. If the victim refuses to cooperate, they are then threatened with arrest, deportation or suspension of a business or driver’s license. In many cases, the caller becomes hostile and insulting. Residents are reminded that the IRS will always send taxpayers a written notification of any tax due via the U.S. mail. The IRS never asks for credit card, debit card or prepaid card information over the telephone. For more information on IRS Scams, go to www.irs.gov and type “scam” in the search box.
- Jury Duty: In jury duty scams, a caller pretends to be a sheriff’s deputy demanding money and threatening the resident with arrest for either failure to pay debts or failure to show up for jury duty. The caller says that the resident has an active arrest warrant, which can be canceled if money is paid to them, usually via the purchase of a Green Dot MoneyPak or other pre-paid debit card.
- Kidnapped Relative: Scammers call to report a friend or relative has been kidnapped and a ransom must be paid. Similar to the arrested relative scam (see below).
- Arrested Relative: Scammers contact you claiming that a friend or relative has been arrested and needs bail money. Another form of this scam is the grandparent scam (see below).
- Grandparent Scam: Someone contacts a grandparent claiming to be a relative who has been arrested overseas and is in need of money in order to be released by local authorities. The caller stresses the urgency of the situation and often claims to be embarrassed, asking the senior not to tell anyone else in the family about the call. Sometimes, a caller will also impersonate a law enforcement official instead of the relative and will tell the senior that his or her family member has been arrested. As in many scams, the caller then asks the senior to wire money through a service such as Western Union or provide prepaid debit card information so they can get payment quickly.
- The Stranded Traveler: Someone claiming to be a friend or family member has lost his or her wallet, cellphone, or passport overseas and needs money to get home. In other versions of the scam, the caller may also pose as a stranger in need of money to visit a sick family member.
Threatened Arrest: Scammers call to tell victims they are subject to arrest by a variety of different agencies and must pay to avoid arrest.
- Utility Scam: Scammers pose as bill collectors from utility companies and threaten to shut off service if victims do not pay. Locally, there have been scam calls from people pretending to represent National Grid and Eversource. The scammers demand immediate payment for utility balances, which customers most likely do not owe. The fraudulent callers claim to be from the utility company and threaten customers with service shut-off unless they provide immediate payment. Utility companies will contact customers via U.S. mail or online if you have signed up for that form of service. If you have any doubt about the caller, hang up immediately and call a customer service representative of the utility company.
- Sweepstakes: Someone calls to notify you that you have won a contest or sweepstakes and must send money to collect any winnings. They may ask you to pay a shipping fee in order to receive this prize. Do not pay such a fee, this is a scam.
- Tech Support/Malware: Someone contacts you claiming your computer needs repairs and asks you to send money for service, or asks to connect to your computer. Additionally, a pop-up can appear on your computer, stating that it is infected with malware, and to call a number to pay to remove the virus. The caller may state that he/she works for Microsoft or Apple and can fix the errors coming from your computer. They will then ask you to log on to correct problems and may ask for personal information. Do not follow their directions or advice and provide no information to them. Just hang up or delete the email.
The Reading Police Department encourages residents who receive a call from an individual who is claiming to be a family member or friend to tell the caller you will call back, and contact that person. If the caller was not who he or she claimed to be, report the scam to the Reading Police Department at 781 944 1212.
Deputy Chief Clark would also like to commend the diligent work of a manager at Stop and Shop who recently prevented a customer from falling victim to a scam. The manager was called over to a check-out line when a man attempted to buy $1,000 in Google Play gift cards, as is protocol at the store. He recognized that the purchase was suspicious, and was able to stop the man from purchasing the cards and prevented him from losing that money to a scam.
“Thankfully, that manager recognized a scam in action, and he saved that man $1,000,” Deputy Chief Clark said. “Residents should familiarize themselves with the signs of a scam. We urge residents to remember to never pay an individual calling or emailing with gift cards. When in doubt, let it go to voicemail or hang up.”
To help protect people from similar scams, the Federal Trade Commission (FCC) offers several tips on it’s website, including the following:
- Do not take calls from unknown numbers.
- Caller ID is not always accurate. A call from a “local” number might not be coming from a local person or organization.
- Do not share personal, identifying information like social security numbers, account numbers, or mother’s maiden names.
- If a caller claims to represent an organization and you are doubtful, hang up and contact that agency to verify whether the call was truly from a representative.
- Never pay a caller with a gift card.
- Telemarketers are required by law to state that they are making a sales call. They are mandated to say the name of the seller and the product before pitching their sale. If this does not happen, hang up.
- Be wary of callers who talk quickly and pressure you to make a decision quickly.
- Do not buy a product or service because of a “free gift.”
Get all information in writing before making a purchase.
- Verify the legitimacy of a charity before donating.
- Before making an investment that a caller or email sender is offering, check with the state securities regulator to make sure the offer is properly registered.
- Do not send cash by messenger, overnight mail, or money transfer. If you pay for a product or service with cash or a money transfer, you run a risk of losing the right to dispute fraudulent charges.
- Don’t accept an offer that requires a registration or shipping fee to get a prize or gift.
- Beware of offers to “help” recover money that you already have lost. Scammers sometimes pose as law enforcement officers who will help get money back for a fee.
- Report rude or abusive callers, even if you already sent them money, by calling 1-877-FTC-HELP or by visiting ftc.gov/complaint.