(CBS) — iTunes cards – that’s how con artists got thousands of dollars out of a frightened grandmother in the latest twist in a scam that keeps growing.
The first call to 79-year-old Pauline Hunt sounded like it was her grandson.READ MORE: Appeals Court Rules Markham Mayor Roger Agpawa Ineligible To Hold Public Office
The caller said, “Grandma this is Jason. I was in a car accident. I hit a car because I was texting.”
Then a man posing as Jason’s lawyer got on the phone.
“The lawyer said he was representing Jason and they needed bond money to get him out of jail, so they asked for the $4,000,” Hunt tells CBS 2’s Pam Zekman.
Hunt has trouble getting around, but as instructed she drove to a Jewel store and bought $2,000 worth of iTunes gift cards — the max allowed by Jewel. Then she went to a CVS pharmacy to buy $2,000 more.
“It tired me out,” Hunt recalled.
The supposed lawyer called back telling Hunt to read him the cards’ redemption numbers.
Fraud experts say the scammers use the numbers to make purchases on iTunes or to resell the cards for cash on various websites.
Hunt got another call, telling her they needed another $6,000.
She wanted to call her daughter but says, “They told me I shouldn’t talk to anybody about this.”READ MORE: Skydeck Chicago At Willis Tower Reopens Friday
So, Hunt went through the same drill, charging $2,000 at each of three stores — to collect the $6,000 worth of gift cards.
When the scammers tried to convince her to buy a third round of gift cards, she balked, telling the caller, “I don’t have it.”
She called her grandson Jason Hosp, inquiring about his accident. He told her he had not been in an accident. She told him what happened.
“I just about lost it,” Hosp says. He told Hunt, “Grandma, you got scammed.”
Fraud experts say it could happen to you or your grandparents.
“This is a really big problem,” says Steve Baker, head of the Federal Trade Commission in Chicago. “And anybody over a certain age is almost guaranteed they’re going to receive a call one of these times, so your story is really important to get the word out.”
Baker says staff at retail stores where gift cards are purchased could help by asking questions when large sums of money are involved.
“I just can’t believe that people do this to steal money like that. It’s very heartbreaking,” Hunt says.
Jewel, CVS and Walgreens all say they train their clerks to look out for victims of this kind of fraud. CVS says it posts signs warning customers about the scam, though CBS 2 did not find such a sign at the location Pauline Hunt visited.MORE NEWS: Who Is Steve 'Mongo' McMichael?
If you get a call like this, try to contact the relative. If someone demands money paid through gift cards, that is a red flag that something is wrong.