After receiving numerous complaints, Attorney General Denise George is alerting V.I. residents to scams circulating in the community that utilize gift cards. In the past several months, the Virgin Island Police Department’s Economic Crime Unit on St. Thomas and St. Croix have reported an increase in these types of cases.
Department of Justice Assistant Attorney General Sigrid M. Tejo said, “We have seen an increase in these types of complaints, especially on St. Thomas, and we have been working them with the FBI and U.S. Postal Service to investigate the cases.”
Gift cards are convenient for marking holidays, birthdays and other special occasions; however, they can be a tool for scammers because they provide numerous untraceable ways to steal.
“These types of scams focus on all areas of consumer vulnerability. In light of COVID-19 and the devastating effects on the economy, it’s more important than ever that residents remain vigilant by using a commonsense approach during online shopping, charitable and business interactions, as well as in communications with those offering what seem to be too-good-to-be-true opportunities,” AG George said.
Gift card scams
Scammers may contact you to log on to their business site to purchase a product. You may also be informed about charitable organizations that are accepting donations. The caller will often tell you to go buy a popular gift card — frequently, iTunes, Google Play or Amazon. The caller will ask you to get the card at a store nearby – often Walgreens, Target or CVS. They may even have you buy several cards at several stores. Sometimes, the caller will stay on the phone with you while you go to the store. Once you buy the card, the caller then will demand the gift card number and PIN on the back of the card. Those numbers let them immediately get the money you loaded onto the card. And once they have done that, the scammers and your money are gone, usually without a trace.
Who are the scammers?
Many kinds of imposters ask you to pay with gift cards. Someone might call you and claim to be from the IRS, collecting back taxes or fines. The caller might say he is from tech support, asking for money to fix your computer. The caller might even say he/she is a family member with an emergency and needs money right now. But they all have in common an urgent need for you to send money right away.
Other kinds of scammers or imposters, who might demand payment by gift card include:
- callers pretending to be from a utility company, telling you to pay your bill by gift card or they will cut off your power or water
- callers who say you have won a so-called prize for a sweepstake you probably never entered – but first, you must use a gift card to pay fees or other charges
- someone posing as a servicemember to get your sympathy, saying he must sell something quickly before deployment and needs you to pay by gift card.
Steps to avoid gift card scams
- Use a gift card promptly to reduce the likelihood that a scammer will hack the account;
- Never give out card information or PINs unless making a purchase directly with the retailer;
- Find reputable gift card exchange sites to trade a card for a more desirable one;
- Ensure an exchange site offers balance verification to avoid trading a fully loaded card for one with a zero balance.
Officials say when purchasing a gift card in a store, consumers should always check the back to ensure the PIN is not revealed or compromised in any manner.
Scammers will often record information from unsold cards and regularly check the balance to see if it has been purchased. Once the card is activated, the scammer will then drain the account.
What if you paid a scammer with a gift card?
If you paid a scammer with a gift card, tell the company that issued the card right away and report that the gift card was used in a scam. Inquire if money is still on the card and if they can refund your money. If you act quickly enough, the company might be able to get your money back. Be aware that some companies will not return any money even if the gift card has not been used. Remember to keep the gift card itself and keep the gift card receipt. Also, share the name of the store in which you bought the gift card as soon as possible.
Information Contacts and Links
You may also contact:
VIPD Economic Crimes Unit 774-3942, St. Thomas or 778-1001, St. Croix
V.I. Division of Licensing and Consumer Affairs (DLCA) at 713-3522 on St. Croix or 714-3522 on St. Thomas or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. For consumer-related issues, call the DLCA at 727-SCAM (7226) on St. Croix or 771-SCAM (7226) on St. Thomas.
Log on to: www.ConsumerResources.org, which is the consumer-facing website of the National Association of Attorneys General, for more information.