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Edmontonians lost nearly $700k in first half of 2019 due to gift card scams

(CREDIT: iStock user Natnan Srisuwan)

EDMONTON – Edmonton police are calling it the “unfortunate gift that just keeps giving”: gift card scams duped people out of nearly $700,000 in the first half of 2019.

Between Jan. 1 and Jul. 15 this year, EPS handled 126 reports of gift card internet scams netting an overall loss of $683,001.69. As a result, the police service is reminding people to be vigilant and cautious when receiving calls about fake credit card transactions.

If you’re unfamiliar with this scam, it begins with a call from someone claiming to be a bank employee telling you your online account has been hacked. The person on the other end of the call will give you an employee number to gain your trust.

“They use a real bank’s identity, including an employee number, to legitimize their story,” explains EPS detective Linda Herczeg.

The scammer will ask you to run a software program, which police say is a virus that will give them remote access to your computer. They then ask you to log in to your online banking. You will notice two fake charges to your credit card, normally from eBay and Google Play.

Next, you’ll be put on hold, while the caller pretends to contact Google to have one of the transactions cancelled. Police say the scammer will return to the call and tell you that Google will only reimburse you for two set dollar values–one lower than the charged amount and one higher. In order to correct the ordeal, the scammer will claim that Google needs you to purchase gift cards at a specific location.

After you’ve got the gift cards, the caller will ask for the code on the back of the card and ask you to remain quiet about the situation as it’s all part of a covert RCMP operation. Eventually, the scammer puts money into your account and will ask you to transfer that money into the account of a designated Mountie. Then they will again get you to purchase more gift cards and cycle back through the steps.

Police say this process will continue until the scammer isn’t able to convince you to send money or buy more gift cards.

If you’re thinking this is quite the layout, it’s because it is. Herczeg says one thing we have to remember is that this is the scammer’s way of life.

“Scammers do this for a living,” Herczeg explained. “This is their livelihood, so they spend all of their time building an elaborate and believable scheme.”

Herczeg also wants to remind people that anyone can fall victim to these scams.