CHICAGO (CBS) — A senior citizen lost $11,000 to a fraudster who convinced him to run around town buying gift cards.
Now, as CBS 2’s Tim McNicholas reported Monday morning, the victim wants you to hear his story to prevent you from falling for a similar scam.
“I was very embarrassed by it,” said Mick McNeil.
Twenty-two gift cards were scattered on the McNeils’ table when McNicholas talked with them. But there is nothing to be done with those gift cards now.
“I hate to use the term gullible,” McNeil said, “but in this case, I guess I was.”
It all started last Wednesday morning, when McNeil got an email – apparently from Amazon – saying someone had bought a $1,000 TV using his account.
He called the number on the email to say it wasn’t him, and was connected to a man named John in the fraud department.
“He said, ‘Your system, you got hacked – someone got into your identity,’” McNeil said.
John convinced McNeil to drive to Target and buy several gift cards, and then read the numbers off the back.
“He said, ‘You’ll be reimbursed, and he said that’s how we track these hackers,’” McNeil said. “He didn’t really exactly explain, and I’m like, he’s the fraud guy from Amazon and I’m not.”
Five hours and four stores later, McNeil had bought more than $11,000 worth of gift cards. He even got a phony invoice saying they would pay him back.
Why was it so convincing?
“I think it was partly just his manner of speaking,” McNeil said. “They were on my side, and that’s what it felt like.”
After a while, McNeil said he felt like he was on a mission to wipe the problem out – to avoid becoming an identity theft victim. He was so in the zone, his family could not get a hold of him.
“I said, ‘Well he has OnStar – let me call them,’” said McNeil’s wife, Linda McNeil.
She said it could have been even worse, but through OnStar, she was able to make an emergency call to the car.
“He said, ‘He’s got me on the phone, I’ve been buying gift cards all day,’” Linda McNeil said. “The minute I heard ‘gift cards,’ I said, ‘Get home, you’ve been hacked.’”
“This is a huge problem – billions of dollars being lost,” said William Kresse, also known as Professor Fraud.
Kresse said scammers like gift cards because they are almost untraceable.
“They want to keep you on the line, keep you on the hook, to keep you buying the gift card – but not a large enough number for the retailers to notice and warn you,” he said.
We tried calling the two numbers that Mick McNeil talked to the scammers on. Both seemed to be disconnected already, just days after the scam.
“The biggest thing I probably felt was that I betrayed my wife; that I spent a lot of money on something that didn’t help either of us,” he said.
Fraud experts say anytime someone asks for payment in the form of gift cards, it is always a scam. It is a lesson that Mick McNeil learned the hard way.
Upon further review, the scammers made that initial email look like it came from Amazon, but it did not in reality. The McNeils tried to see if their bank could cancel the charges, but sadly, they could not – since Mick McNeil was the one who bought the cards.
The Federal Trade Commission says gift cards are a popular tool for scammers, because as McNeil experienced, once someone spends the money on a card, you’re probably not getting it back. The FTC, again, says any time someone demands payment with a gift card, it’s a scam.
Gift card scams are so prevalent best buy produced a video to warn consumers, urging them to “Help spread the world. Help stop the scam.”
Walgreens posts signs about the dangers in their stores, and also has information warning about gift card scams on its website.
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