In recent years, reloadable debit card phone scams have become more and more common, especially in the United States.
In this scam, criminals try to trick victims into purchasing or reloading a pre-paid debit card such as a Green Dot card and then calling them back and providing card details. The scammers are then able to transfer funds from the card to their own account.
Thankfully, once you have some prior knowledge of these scams, they are easy to recognise and avoid.
Here’s how the scam works:
Step 1: Scammer Calls and Demands Money
The scammer cold-calls and claims that you must urgently pay a fee. The criminals use a variety of cover stories to explain why you must pay up straight away.
Here are just a few of the stories they may use:
- The scammer may claim that there is an outstanding warrant in your name and police will come and arrest you if you do not pay a fine immediately.
- The scammer may claim that you have missed a scheduled jury duty date and must pay a fine over the phone to avoid facing further legal consequences.
- The scammer may claim that you owe a substantial sum to your country’s tax department and must pay up immediately to avoid serious legal repercussions.
- The scammer may claim that you have won a large prize – often via Publishers Clearing House – but must pay administration and legal fees before the prize can be processed.
- The scammer may claim that you are eligible for a government grant but must pay an administration fee before you can receive the grant.
- The scammer may claim to be representing a member of your family who has had an accident or is in legal trouble and needs an urgent loan.
Step 2: Scammer Instructs Victim To Get Pre-Paid Debit Card and Call Back
Once the scammer has spun his or her fictional story and convinced you that you must pay the money straight away, he will instruct you to hang up and go out and purchase a reloadable debit card such as a Green Dot card. These pre-paid debit cards are very popular and can be bought – or reloaded with new funds – in many different retail locations.
The cards let you send money over the phone or via the Internet by using a number on the card.
When you call back as instructed, the scammer will ask you to provide the card number. When you dial the number, the scammer may stay in character by stating his or her name and “department. In some cases, an accomplice may play a receptionist role and “redirect” you to the original scammer when you call back. This simple ruse may further convince you that the request for money is legitimate.
The money on the card will then be transferred to the criminal who can then withdraw the funds as cash and disappear or – in some cases – call back to demand even more money.
Scam Targets Vulnerable Victims
Of course, many people will easily recognise the calls as scams and will not comply with the criminal’s demands.
However, these scammers are skilled at impersonating police or government officials and are therefore able to intimidate some vulnerable members of the community into complying. The scammers present themselves as authority figures and use threats and bullying tactics to panic victims into following their instructions and paying up.
In some cases, it seems that the scammers have gathered information about a victim beforehand and are thus able to personalise their cover stories to make them seem more believable.
Thwarting the Scammers
Government departments, police, and court officials are extremely unlikely to cold-call you and demand an immediate payment over the phone. And, in the highly unlikely event that they did, they certainly would not insist that you pay via a pre-paid debit card.
Any such requests should be met with the utmost suspicion.
If you are concerned that a call might be legitimate, here’s what to do:
- Tell the caller you will contact their department about the issue and hang up.
- Find a number for the supposed department or official via a phone directory or online search. DO NOT call back using contact details provided by the original caller.
- If the department has no knowledge of the caller or his or her demands for money, then you will know that the call was a scam.
Hopefully, you would never be tricked by such a scam attempt in the first place.
However, it might be worthwhile to ensure that elderly or more vulnerable family and friends are aware of such scams so that they can avoid being caught out.