Imagine this: it’s the hottest day of the year. (Or, since we’re getting into Fall, the coldest.) Someone from your utility company calls to say they’re about to cut off your power. You check the caller ID, and it looks like the right number – at least, it’s in your area code. You know you’ve paid your bill, and you can’t imagine what happened – but you also know you can’t afford to lose power. So what do you do?
The caller tells you: I can stop this, but only if you pay me. And, naturally, he tells you how.
Up to this point, it’s the kind of scam we often see at the Federal Trade Commission. Consumers tell us every day about being tricked into wiring money or giving their credit card or bank account number to a very persuasive person – who turns out to be a first-rate scam artist. There are all sorts of scams: someone you know is in trouble and needs your help; you won a big, big prize, but you have to pay a fee before you can collect it; you can get a government grant, but you need to pay some fees – and so many other variations.
But this particular scam has its own variation on the scheme. Instead of wiring money, these scammers are telling people to use GreenDot, buy a prepaid gift card, or use PayPal to pay them. Scammers using reloadable debit cards, gift cards, or PayPal is not exactly new – but it’s definitely growing. It lets them get your money in a way that doesn’t let you ever get it back. *Poof* – it’s gone. And that call that looked like the right number? Scammers can use computers to make it look like they’re calling from one place – when, really, they’re someplace else.
So, if you ever get a call (or email, or text, or – perish the thought – visit) saying you need to pay someone via PayPal, or buy a GreenDot card or a gift card: Stop. Chances are, that’s a scam. Call your utility company – for example – on a number you know to be correct. (Check your bill – it will list one.) Tell them what happened and see what they say. And then report the scammers to the Federal Trade Commission: 1-877-FTC-HELP, so we can try to shut them down.