MARBLE FALLS — At first, it sounded like an exciting day for one Walgreens customer as she shared with the checkout person her good fortune. She told the employee how she had won a new car and only had to pay a $500 fee for tax, title and license to get it.
The elderly customer was in the process of buying a Green Dot card, which would allow her to pay the fee over the phone to the company awarding the prize.
But something just didn’t sound right to the Walgreen’s staff.
“As we started asking more questions, we really became concerned,” said Melissa Crumley, the Marble Falls store manager. “Then, we realized this was a scam.”
Crumley and her staff told the customer what was really going to happen when she gave the Green Dot number to the person who contacted her about her new car.
The money would be gone, and she wouldn’t get any car.
Marble Falls Police Capt. Glenn Hanson shared some words of caution.
“It may sound trite, but if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is,” he said. “You should never give personal information, banking information or anything like that over the phone or through email to any unsolicited call or email.”
The woman, a bit disappointed about not winning a car, opted not to purchase the $500 on the Green Dot card. At first, Crumley thought it might be an isolated case, but she and her staff soon found more elderly customers coming in looking for the Green Dot cards and trying to purchase $500 on them.
“We had two come in just today,” Crumley said May 22. “It’s just not right. These people are targeting senior citizens.”
Crumley said the current scam starts when a person allegedly from the Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes calls the victim at home and informs him or her that he or she has won a new car. But the “winner” has to pay for the tax, title and license.
In order to pay it, the caller directs the person to go to Walmart, Walgreens or another store to get a Green Dot card, which is basically a prepaid debit card. Crumley said customers put funds on it through a MoneyPack or similar recharge method.
Crumley said she wasn’t sure who the victim would then contact, but the scammer would ask for the Green Dot card or recharge code.
“Once you give that number to them, they can get the money,” Crumley said. “And there’s really no way to trace it or get it back.”
And, there’s no car.
“We’ve got to the point here (at Walgreens) that we’ll question any customer, especially elderly ones, who come in looking for a Green Dot card,” she said. “We can’t stand by and let people fall victim to this scam.”
Some customers, even after hearing the Walgreens employees explain the likely scam, decided to try anyway.
While the Walgreens staff can monitor their customers, Crumley pointed out there are lots of other place to buy the Green Dot cards and reload them.
This isn’t the only scam making its rounds. Recently, a woman reported she received a phone call from her “credit card company” advising her that her card had been frozen. All she had to do was provide the caller with her number, and it would be unfrozen.
The woman, however, didn’t provide any information because she realized it was a scam to get her credit card information.
Hanson said the scams aren’t limited to phone calls.
“You get a lot of them through email as well,” he said.
Some of the scams promise high-paying jobs, which you can do at home. Hanson described one in which an email promises a job, but the new “employee” must commit to purchasing a Green Dot card with, say, $1,000 on it. The guise, Hanson said, is the company sends a check for $1,250 with the additional $250 going to the “employee.” But when the person gets the Green Dot card, he or she provides the number to the “employer,” who then takes the $1,000 off it.
As for the check?
“It turns out to be counterfeit, so you’re left stuck with the loss,” Hanson said.
He added not to give personal or financial information to unsolicited phone calls or emails. If a person calls claiming to be from your credit card company or bank and needs your financial information, credit card number or routing number, Hanson said you need to be wary.
“If they are your bank or credit card company, they already have the information,” he said. “If you do get a call like that, you should hang up and call your bank or credit card company yourself and verify the call and caller.”
Then, there’s another one in which somebody calls a victim and claims to be a grandchild, nephew or niece and in some type of trouble. Typically, the caller claims to have been arrested in a foreign country and needs the victim to send them money via Western Union or similar company. The person will even direct the victim to a specific location to which to wire the money.
The money, once wired, is gone, and the relative, well, he or she was likely never in any trouble. The caller even uses a relative’s name and “begs” the victim not to contact “his or her parents” for any number of reasons.
One of the latest schemes involved a “grandson” calling his grandfather in the Highland Lakes and claiming he was a witness to a crime in Mexico. But in order to get released from police custody, the grandfather needed to wire a specific amount of money to a location in Mexico.
The grandfather took down the information, but, before wiring any money, he contacted the parents of the real grandchild who informed him the named individual was not anywhere near Mexico.
When the scammer called the grandfather back and demanded to know where the money was, the man simply hung up.
According to the FBI, telemarketing fraud is a national problem and one that often targets senior citizens. Some things the FBI website warns against is dealing with any “telemarketer” who uses phrases such as:
• “You must act ‘now’ or the offer won’t be good.”
• “You’ve won a ‘free’ gift, vacation or prize. But you have pay for ‘postage and handling’ or other charges (such as tax, title and license).”
• “You must send money, give a credit card or bank account number, or have a check picked up by courier.”
Go to www.fbi.gov/scams-safety/fraud for other tips on avoiding various frauds and schemes.
Hanson added many of these scams originate outside the United States, which means local law enforcement has little recourse.
The best thing, the captain said, is to protect yourself and your personal information.