Despite consumer reports, investigations, arrests and public service announcements—people in northeast Wisconsin continue to hand over money and gift cards to scammers claiming to be bill collectors or the IRS.
“This is the time of year when scammers are kind of having field days because there’s so much economic activity going on out there specific to the gift cards which is a very convenient way to stop,” said Frank Frasetto, Administrator, Division of Trade and Consumer Protection at DATCP.
This year, billions of dollars were lost to scammers claiming to be the IRS or utility companies—demanding immediate money in the form of gift cards for outstanding debt and impending lawsuits.
“We continue to get calls into the hotline regarding the utilities scams,” said Frasetto, “and now as the winter months are rolling around you can anticipate that that’s going to be adding an uptick or two– because people don’t want to have their heat turned off in the middle of winter.”
That’s why CVS pharmacy added an extra step to their check out recently. Anyone buying a gift card is prompted with the following message on their screen:
“Protect yourself from prepaid card scams. Common scams include requests related to lotteries, taxes, a new job and helping someone in need. Don’t provide any prepaid card information to someone you don’t know; including PIN # or Card #. If you feel you are a victim of fraud, reconsider your purchase and contact local law enforcement.”
The customer can choose “continue” to the payment screen, or “cancel.”
Officials also want to remind consumers that reputable companies like WPS, for example, want a check made out to them.
“They don’t get payments via gift cards,” Frasetto told Action 2 News, “or—the latest twist—the iTunes gift cards. So consumers should be very wary whenever an unsolicited contact comes to them and starts demanding money.”