The Woodruff Police Department recently reported three instances in the last couple of weeks of subjects being the victim of a scam after buying gift cards at an area business for a national company.
According to Woodruff police chief Corey Backhaus, the nature of the scams revolved around the subject being contacted by another party and directed to purchase gift cars and then release the card numbers and pins to the other party.
“One of them was a person was contacted by Apple Support, and I think that was via email, and required that they buy these gift cards and send them the PIN,” Backhaus said.
Another instance saw a person receiving an email from someone they assumed to be their boss, who began correspondence over the phone requesting a large sum of money in Google Play cards.
Backhaus said the third incident was similar, where the victim was contacted by somebody claiming to be someone they know.
He added that scammers may pose as acquaintances or friends to try and persuade people to purchase gift cards on their behalf as a favor, as for the details, and then spend the money.
Telemarketing scams, including ones where scammers impersonate government agencies or other entities and request payment through gift cards, are common, and may be more frequent during the holiday season.
Oneida County sheriff’s captain Tyler Young said these scams have been going on for “years” and that the Oneida County Sheriff’s Office receives several of these types of call a year.
“It’s that time of year where gift cards purchases are frequent,” Young said.
As for detecting these scams, Backhaus and Young advised of several red flags that the public can be aware of.
“If a company or government agency is contacting you requesting that you buy gift cards for them, that should be an immediate red flag,” Backhaus said.
“People don’t want, obviously their power or heat turned off, so they’re more anxious, I think they’re more susceptible to make payments under those threats,” Young said.
Similarly, if a friend or an acquaintance requests gift card information, Backhaus advised reaching out to them to make sure the request is legitimate.
“Gift cards are pretty much untraceable, so it’s a pretty good source of revenue for these scammers to use,” he said.
With advancements in technology, Young said it’s easier now to make it look as though the call is coming from a local area, even when it’s not.
“You can’t rely on, ‘Hey, this is a local number, I should be able to trust this,’” Young said.
He advised calling the company directly to verify whether a payment is due or if the call was legitimate.
“We’re talking thousands of dollars people are purchasing in gift cards and that money’s going overseas, most likely,” he said.
While scammers directing people to purchase and release gift card information is a common type of scam, another similar scam involves scammers collecting that information while the card is still in stores.
According to Backhaus, in these instances, scammers collect PIN information, are notified when the card is activated, and spend or transfer those funds before the buyer gets to do so.
“Always make sure you check the balance before a transaction is made to make sure those funds are actually on there,” Backhaus said.
These scams are not limited to any particular region or area, though different areas may be targeted at different times, Young said.
“We haven’t been hit yet, but that’s just a matter of time,” Vilas County chief deputy Patrick Schmidt said. “If Woodruff’s being hit, Vilas will be hit shortly.”
Minocqua police chief Dave Jaeger said that while the Minocqua Police Department had been made aware of the scams in Woodruff, there hadn’t been any reported within Minocqua’s jurisdiction recently.
Young said the Oneida County Sheriff’s Office posts awareness on social media and does presentations to different community groups throughout the year, reminding them that “legitimate businesses are not going to ask for payment through gift cards.”
“And that’s the message that we gotta get out there,” he said.
Kayla Houp may be reached via email at [email protected]