Madison woman loses $11,500 to gift card scam

MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) – One woman is out thousands of dollars after losing her money in a pre-paid scam. Kim Grove says her stack of Apple Gift Cards amounts to $11,500.

“I kept them all,” said Grove. “When you look back at it and you look at the whole thing, it’s plainly obvious it was a stupid scam.”

One woman is out hundreds of dollars after losing her money in a pre-paid scam. Kim Grove says her stack of Apple Gift Cards amounts to $11,500.(WMTV)

She says it started when she received an email about a recent online purchase stating she had ordered a TV and video gaming equipment through Amazon. Grove says she had not bought anything like this and clicked on the link in the email to file a claim.

Shortly after, Grove says she received a phone call from someone claiming to be Amazon telling her that her account was hacked and that the company would refund her $400.

According to Grove, the imposter had log on to an electronic banking website and enter her account information to receive the money back.

“He goes, ‘Oh no, it looks like there was a mistake. We just refunded you $4,000, not $400,’” remembered Grove. “And I was like ‘Oh, that’s not cool. That means I owe you $3,600.”

After trying a few options online to send the money back, Grove was told she could reimburse the overpayment by purchasing Apple Gift Cards.

She bought $500 worth of gift cards and sent him the corresponding information.

“Every time I did that, there was some sort of mistake like it didn’t go through or it was blocked by their software,” recalled Grove. “I kept going back to the store and getting more and more of these gift cards to fix the problem.”

The Better Business Bureau says consumers lose an average of $700 in this scam compared to the...
The Better Business Bureau says consumers lose an average of $700 in this scam compared to the average loss of $169 for any other type of scam.(WMTV)

THE PRE-PAID SCAM

Grove is just one of many people across the country who has lost hundreds of dollars in the pre-paid card scam.

The Better Business Bureau says consumers lose an average of $700 in this scam, compared to the average loss of $169 for any other type of scam.

Tiffany Bernhardt Schultz, the Southwest Wisconsin Regional Director for the Better Business Bureau, says it’s significantly more money that the consumers are losing to these gift card scams.

“Scammers love the fact that you cannot trace any form of payment on a gift card,” added Bernhardt Schultz. “As soon as you provide those numbers, it’s gone.”

Once a consumer scratches off those numbers and provides them to a scammer, a scammer immediately has your money.

“The bottom line is that they want to get your money and it’s an easy way to get your money because it can’t be traced,” explained Bernhardt Schultz.

The BBB has found elderly victims lose the most money in a pre-paid scam.

“It makes you feel dumb,” she admits. “I’m a professional, well-educated person and I still fell for it.”

IMPOSSIBLE TO TRACE

Because there is no paper trail, Grant Co. Sheriff Nate Dreckman says it’s nearly impossible for his deputies to track the scammers down.

“It’s an extreme challenge for law enforcement,” said Dreckman. “People have lost a lot of money.”

In the last few months, Sheriff Dreckman says his department have investigated or received reports about nearly 30 cases involving a scam like this.

“Everything was fake accounts, fake names, fake emails,” said Dreckman. “It was just a dead end.”

Another obstacle is that many of these scams originate from elsewhere in the country or even overseas, where local law enforcement doesn’t have jurisdiction.

“The best we can do is educate people,” said Dreckman. “If somebody offers you something and want you to pay in gift cards, it’s a scam.”

Authorities say the gift card scam works well because it's nearly impossible for law...
Authorities say the gift card scam works well because it’s nearly impossible for law enforcement to trace.(WMTV)

PREYING ON EMOTIONS

Now back on her feet, Grove says losing all that money was a financial and emotional hardship, something she still is working to process months later.

“It makes you feel dumb,” she admits. “I’m a professional, well-educated person and I still fell for it.”

Though she knows it’s not an excuse, Grove says during this time she was very ill and waiting to have surgery done, which makes her believe she was vulnerable and not in the right head space.

“They make it seem so important and so vital that you deal with this right now,” said Grove. “It just takes over and it’s the only thing you can focus on until you resolve the issue.”

Law enforcement says this urgency is something they hear often from victims.

“It’s kind of scary how influential these scammers are to certain people,” said Dreckman. “They just continuously pester and pester and pester until these people eventually give in.”

The BBB reports that others who have fallen victim felt an intense pressure.

“They don’t want you to have time to think and they don’t want you to have time to do your research because if you do, they’re going to lose you,” said Bernhardt Schultz.

A scammer never wants you to think about whether or not this could be a scam.

“They want to get it done right now, which we see in scam after scam after scam,” said Grove. “In this case, they really conveyed the emergency and the emotional attachment.”

The Federal Trade Commission says Amazon is now the top brand used for impersonation, recently...
The Federal Trade Commission says Amazon is now the top brand used for impersonation, recently surpassing Social Security Administration and Publishers Clearing House.(WMTV)

IMPERSONATING BIG BRANDS

According to data from the Better Business Bureau, hundreds of scam tracker reports were filed in 2021 for scams involving an Amazon impersonation.

The Federal Trade Commission says it’s now the top brand used for impersonation, recently surpassing Social Security Administration and Publishers Clearing House.

“Amazon is a trusted company,” Bernhardt Schultz said. “Scammers are banking on the fact that you have an Amazon account.”

The BBB says consumers should always check your Amazon account before getting concerned about an email or phone call regarding an online order.

“If those fraudulent charges are not in your Amazon account, it’s a scam. You can go ahead and hung up or delete that email,” she added.

Here are the top 10 brands/organizations used for impersonation:

  1. Amazon
  2. Social Security Administration
  3. Publishers Clearing House
  4. PayPal
  5. Medicare
  6. Microsoft
  7. Apple
  8. Walmart
  9. Cash Advance/Advance America
  10. Facebook

FILE A SCAM TRACKER REPORT

If you or someone you know experiences a pre-paid or gift card scam, or any other type of scam, you’re encouraged to submit it to the Better Business Bureau Scam Tracker website. You can do so HERE.

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