By TRAVIS HANDY
“Great news! You’ve won a $100 gift card! Call now to claim your prize!”
Many of us receive pieces of mail making such claims, but quickly dismiss them as junk mail. Others may take the claims seriously and fall for scams, some of them very costly.
One local resident received just such a notice in the mail last week, and although she suspected it to be a scam, she called just to check it out. The card she received had no return address and no company name, just a phone number and a message that there was a prize to be claimed, accompanied by a claim number. She described the experience when she made the call to “claim her prize.”
“At first I heard a lot of noise in the background and I could barely understand what (the man on the line) was saying,” said Mary Sheets of Pulaski. “He didn’t seem to be making a lot of sense, and so I said, ‘I understand I have $100 on a gift certificate and all I have to give is this number… Is there any string attached to it?’”
Sheets said the man explained there were no strings attached, but he would need her credit card number so she could send him $4.95, “which he was sure she could afford.” At that point, Sheets knew she was dealing with a scammer and she wasn’t going to fall for his act.
“I just told him, ‘no thank you,’” Sheets said. Then she hung up the phone.
According to a representative from the Better Business Bureau (BBB) serving Western Virginia, this is not a new scam, and is, in fact, quite prevalent. She said they change every day and originate in a number of different places. Sometimes it’s Jamaica, other times it may be Canada, London or somewhere in the United States.
In a March 22 release about this particular scam, BBB warns consumers this is a “new twist on a familiar scam involving gift cards that used text messaging in the past. Now it appears scammers are specifically targeting seniors who may not be as integrated and active with texting and email communication.” They also warn that Walmart and Target have no connection with reward and gift savings sweepstakes and do not partner with agencies that offer rewards with advance fee stipulations.
“Be wary of any contest or sweepstakes that asks for an upfront fee, “said Julie Wheeler, President and CEO of BBB in Western VA, in the BBB press release. “Legitimate sweepstakes companies will not ask you to pay handling fees, taxes or other charges. Winning is free.”
Sheets fears some people who really need money may fall for the scam because they don’t make the connection between these claims and the possibility of a scam.
“They just might fall for it and think, ‘oh, well Walmart is here local and Target is here local; and they might just believe it and go ahead and give their credit card number and I would sure hate to see that happen to anybody,” said Sheets, adding that she worries the elderly might fall victim to the scammers. “I’m not so young myself, but I’ve caught on to them on through the years.”
BBB recommends never giving personal information to claim prizes or sign up for free trials. They also warn not to give credit card, bank account or other personal information to pay for fees, taxes or shipping costs for anything you may have “won” or are getting for “free.” They say a true sweepstakes will not make its winner pay fees.
For more information about this or other scams, contact the BBB at (540) 342-3455, toll-free at (800) 533-5501 or visit www.bbb.org.