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May 17, 2023

One Thing I Wish Every Adult Could Hear

David Godfrey

The PDF in which this article appears can be found here.

"If someone calls, emails, texts, or direct messages you, urgently needing payment, for any reason,  and asks for payment by gift card, pre-paid debit card, direct transfer apps, or cryptocurrency, THEY ARE STEALING YOUR MONEY.  It is a scam.  Hang up, ignore the messages, report it to law enforcement."

The scammers are very sophisticated.  The stories they tell are convincing, often terrifying.  The scams take advantage of our kindness, caring, loyalty, families, social connection, or sense of responsibility.  The thieves use psychological pressure to steal what they want from good people who are trying to do the right thing.  It happens so fast and under such pressure that people don’t realize they are being robbed until it is over. 

The scammers target all kinds of people. 

There was a scam this past year, targeting people who worked at universities.  An email would arrive that looked like it came from a colleague, usually a superior such as a department chair or dean asking the person urgently to respond by text. The reply text explained that the person was in an embarrassing position, they were in a meeting they couldn’t leave and forgot to bring $500 in Google Play Gift Cards as an award or gift for someone in the meeting.  The respondent was asked, “please do me a favor and run and buy the cards and text me the numbers ASAP, I need this in the next half hour. I will make it up to you later.”  I know two people who did so, only to learn later that it was a scam. A scam probably from the same thief, even the dollar amount was the same.  The sent from email addresses were nearly identical to a genuine university email address (off by a character or space – a common spoofed email technique.) The text number had a local area code for where the university was at (the two people I have learned of were at universities 1,000 miles away from one another.)  These are sophisticated criminals that are taking time to research and target their crime.    

I was on a video call recently with financial services and securities experts discussing financial exploitation. Several people spoke up about the problem caused by the proliferation of cryptocurrency ATMs.  Crypto currencies are untraceable.  The numbers are like cash. Once the code has been shared it is virtually impossible to stop the transaction or get the money back. 

Gift cards and pre-paid debit cards are just like cash.  They are sold without registration of ownership. The issuers have no interest in stopping them.  How do the thief’s cash in?  They resell the value, sometimes reloading it onto another card, or just providing the numbers by email or text, often at a discount.  If you go online and buy gift cards at a discount, you may well be buying from a scammer . . .  a thief.  Unscrupulous retailers buy these at a deep discount and sell them earning a higher than normal “commission.” 

Utility companies, tax collectors, criminal fines, jury duty summonses will NEVER ask for payment by gift card, debit card, direct payment app or cryptocurrency.  There is no one on the way with an arrest warrant. 

Awareness is the key to prevention. And prevention is better than response.  These crimes are very difficult at best to prosecute.  It is very rare for money to be recovered. 

Where to report?

The issuer of the Gift or Debit card: are seldom able to help, but they need to know what numbers are part of a scam. 

Law enforcement: This is local, so call the non-emergency number and ask to file a police report.  If you have scam coverage under renters or homeowners insurance, you will likely need the police report to file a claim. 

The Federal Trade Commission:  The FTC needs reports to build cases for enforcement.  They can’t help an individual, but reporting is essential for them to build enforcement cases and shut down bad actors. 

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau:

Your State Attorney Generals Office:

If Any Part of the Scam Used the United States Postal Service:

Reporting a single incident seldom results in the money being returned, but reports are essential to building a case that closes down channels used to perpetrate scams, and to develop cases that do bring justice through prosecution. 

Don’t be shy, be angry and report.

And do me a favor and share that underlined paragraph with everyone you know.  

David Godfrey, JD

Director, ABA Commission on Law and Aging

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