Janice Heath is kicking herself after she was duped into giving away $5,500.
“I feel used and angry that I didn’t trust my gut,” said Heath. “I should have just put him on hold and called the police and not been afraid.”
The retired nurse received a voicemail saying charges were being filed against her. She returned the call and was told she was talking to a Federal Drug Enforcement agent in Texas.
“He said seven bank accounts had been open under my social security number and a house had been rented under my name and social security number, and they had raided the house and found drugs and a lot of money laundering was going through the bank accounts,” explained Heath.
She took notes during the call, writing down a case ID number, the agent’s name and badge number, and his instructions to tell no one. She says he told her the government was going to seize her bank accounts, but he could help her protect her funds.
“I said this doesn’t sound right to me, I haven’t done anything wrong and I don’t understand this,” said Heath. “They have answers to everything. They come across as very sweet caring people.”
The man stayed on the line for hours, instructing Heath to empty her bank account.
“He said how much money did you get and I told him less amounts and he said why are you lying to me, we can see what you’re doing, and if you’re lying to me there will be consequences,” said Heath. “It was very emotional, very scary. I’m afraid I’m going to be arrested by the end of the day. I’m afraid the government is going to take all my money.”
Heath was instructed to buy thousands of dollars worth of Google Play and Target gift cards.
“I got in the card and I read him off the numbers and he basically emptied those cards the second I gave him the numbers,” said Heath.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, scams involving gift cards are on the rise. The FTC reports consumers lost 40-million dollars in gift card and reload card schemes in 2017 and lost more than 53-million dollars last year. Experts say these criminals now exactly how to scare people into giving up their money.
“They have a knowledge of psychology that Freud would have envied,” said scam expert Steve Weisman. “They probably could have gotten Freud to go out and get some gift cards. They make you think there is an emergency and that you have to act right now or there will be tremendous consequences if you don’t and we really can’t be too hard on people because it’s very, very easy to fall prey.”
Heath learned the hard way. Police tell her there isn’t much they can do, but she is thankful she realized what was happening before the man on the phone asked about her retirement account.
“If your gut is telling you it’s not right, even if they have a comeback, put them on hold and call the police or call your daughter or call your best friend and sound it off to them,” she warned.
Anytime you’re asked to protect your money, pay a bill or a fine or a ransom with a gift card, it is always a scam. No real government agency will ever ask to be paid with gift cards. Many stores have posted warnings about this and some even limit the amount of gift cards you can buy in one transaction.
Remember gift cards are impossible to trace and once your money is gone, it’s gone.