If someone you don’t know well asks you to buy thousands of dollars in gift cards and send them the card information, you should probably think twice.
Scams and fraud calls aren’t a new occurrence. These incidents don’t make up a large portion of crimes reported annually to the Denton Police Department, but the loss people can face if they fall victim to them can add up to thousands of dollars.
“There’s good and bad about the electronic age,” said Detective Brandon Hobon, a financial crimes investigator with the department. “It’s just about taking the extra precautions. … If someone wants to steal your identity or [credit/debit] card, they’re going to do it. There’s no way to stop it 100%, but we want to get citizens to do everything they can to make it harder.”
The Denton Police Department received 299 scam reports in 2019, and the reports in 2020 have just barely outpaced last year’s. From Jan. 1, 2020, through Oct. 7, 2020, the department received 301 reports.
Many scam and fraud reports involve gift cards. Officer David Causey at the University of North Texas Police Department said as soon as a gift card is mentioned, residents should consider that a red flag.
A scammer will tell someone to go to the store and purchase gift cards with a certain amount of money on them. The victims who buy the gift cards may think they’re in the clear if they haven’t physically mailed out the cards, but usually scammers will ask for the numbers associated with the card.
In a recent report, Hobon said a victim purchased $10,000 in gift cards.
“He’s given all the card numbers on the back,” Hobon said. “That’s actually electronic data. With that information, I can go in online and take the funds off those cards and transfer them where I want or redeem them. … Once I’m given that info and as a bad guy, the victim is left holding plastic cards that have no value.”
Some of the reports related to gift cards include scammers claiming to be collecting payments for Social Security, fraudsters asking for money to help a victim clear their computer of a virus or malware and romance scams where a scammer befriends a victim and then asks for money to help with an emergency.
Causey also spoke about fraud reports relating to explicit photos. The Denton Police Department issued a warning on social media to residents in September about victims who reported threats that if they didn’t send a fraudster money to a Western Union account, their explicit photos would be sent to friends and family.
According to the Facebook posts, the victims all told police they did have compromising photos on their phones, but it was unclear if the fraudsters actually had these images. Hobon said it’s possible they could have these photos if the two used video chatting.
“A lot of the ones on the sexual side with intimate pictures start out with people who are meeting other individuals online,” he said. “They’re video chatting, for a better term, and during the video chat, they’re engaging in those types of acts, and the person on the other side is screenshotting or even videotaping.”
Causey said in one of these recent reports, a third party that got involved replied back with a victim’s full name to prove they knew who they were talking to.
Romance scams are when victims who are looking for love are befriended by someone who knows all the right things to say, including that they are trying to move to where the victim is, but then claims an emergency has come up and asks for money.
“[The victim] developed an emotional bond, sends money, [and the scammer] walks off with the money or will continue with it for quite a while until the victim has realized it and cuts off communication,” Hobon said.
Although older folks aren’t necessarily targeted, Hobon said older generations were raised to be polite and finish a conversation rather than just hang up the phone.
“There may be some confusion on part of an older person,” he said. “[A scammer will think], the longer I can keep someone on phone, the more likely I can get them to do what I want them to do. It’s harder to tell them to just hang up on people because it goes against what they were taught. There’s a different mindset, which is one of the reasons as to why they tend to get victimized a little bit more.”
Timing plays a big part in whether or not law enforcement can get someone’s money back. As an example, Hobon said if someone doesn’t realize until Friday that someone has been scammed and then files a report, he won’t see the report until Monday because cases aren’t assigned to him over the weekend.
“Monday would be the soonest I’d see it, but as a scammer, I’ve had that whole weekend to withdraw,” he said. “We’re already four days behind when you sent those funds. I may or may not be able to seize [any funds]. There may not be anything to seize. A lot of times, we’re not able to get all the money. Sometimes I can get just a couple hundred out of thousands sent.”
Greg Hassell, a spokesperson for JPMorgan Chase and Co., said clients should call their banks if they have concerns about their accounts.
“To avoid scams, it’s crucial that customers make sure they provide information or send money only to people they know and trust,” Hassell said. “Never share login information with outside parties.”
Hobon said people should ask themselves if a situation is too good to be true.
“We’re not going to change everyone in our [area] on how they do some things, but we [can] get someone to realize they shouldn’t send $15,000 to someone they don’t know,” he said. “We just want them to look at it from a fresh perspective, not the heat of the moment or passion.”
ZAIRA PEREZ can be reached at 940-566-6882 and via Twitter at @zairalperez.