Jim Fisher

Yet another client of mine fell for a gift card scam. I’ve written about the scam before but here’s a refresher. A gift card scam occurs when a victim falls for scams such as the fake “Microsoft warning” that may appear on your computer display or from a random phone call from “Norton” or “Microsoft” or “McAfee” or a host of others, including the IRS. Of course, none of these are real. In the old days, these scammers would convince you to pay them directly with your credit card. Banks have cracked down on that so the scammers had to look for other means of guaranteed payment. That’s where gift cards come into play.

Scammers now persuade the victim to purchase gift cards from places like Walmart, Target, and other retail outlets usually in $500 increments. These cards come with a long number on the back similar to a credit card number. Credit card charges are often refundable but, once a victim purchases a gift card and gives that number to a scammer, that money is gone with no hope of anyone getting reimbursed for the theft.

So, yesterday, another little old lady fell for the Microsoft scam. She was told to go purchase $5,000 worth of gift cards. If she didn’t, her bank account was going to be wiped out. She fell for it. Before you judge this person, please keep in mind that there is a physiological reason old people fall for these scams: The “risk measurement” part of our brains starts deteriorating after age 50 or so. Some older folks literally cannot “see” the risk involved. All they can see is the benefit of not having their bank accounts wiped out. It’s such a sad and frustrating thing to witness on a daily basis.

The good news is that my new client was stopped from purchasing more cards by an alert cashier at Target. She may only be out $1,000. Target didn’t return my inquiry of what, if any, training a cashier receives, but I did speak with Casey Staheli with Walmart Media Relations who confirmed that their cashiers undergo formal training. He suspects everyone else does too. I’d like to see even more done. I think Big Box stores should be liable for damages to old folks just as they are punished for selling alcohol to a minor. Anyone over age 50 who is buying more than $100 in gift cards ought to be required to consult with someone who has read every one of the dozen articles I’ve done on this scam. The old person shall then be required to sign a release form if they still wish to purchase the cards. If there is no release form, then the Big Box retailer (who makes money off these scams) ought to be liable for the losses.

But, hey, I’m not the boss of the world yet (work in progress) so, for now, we are going to have to take care of each other. Stay in touch with the old folks in your life. Maybe share this article with them.

Jim Fisher owns Excel Computer Services in Florence. Reach him at www.ExcelAL.com