“Will you do a favor for me?”
Numerous people in Dublin Rodeo Heritage Museum Director Carolyn Harbin’s contact list received an email with this simple question. Harbin is warning everyone that she did not send it.
According to Harbin, a neighborly but unlucky friend responded to the request and was informed that Harbin was out of the country and had run into trouble. The sender who was using the email address 'email@example.com' (not the correct email address for the museum) asked for Harbin’s contact to go to the store and buy a gift card.
They reportedly bought $300 in iTunes and experience shows they have little chance of getting that back.
“This scam has been around for a while,” said Dublin Police Department Investigator Nanci Wilson. “We’ve seen it for a couple of years, but they kind of morph it.”
Wilson said the most common form of the scam is that the target is called or emailed by someone claiming to be from a legal agency such as the Social Security office, the IRS or a law enforcement agency. The scammer will claim that they have a warrant for the target’s arrest or that the Social Security number is “frozen” for criminal activity.
They tell the target that the issue can be resolved if the target purchases a gift card and reads the number back to them over the phone.
The scammers will usually also tell people not to tell others about the issue and some of those who call by phone keep the target on the line while they go to purchase the card.
Wilson said people have even called her with reports that someone who spoofed the Dublin PD’s phone number has contacted them looking for a gift card in exchange for clearing a warrant. Wilson advises that none of these agencies contact people directly and ask to resolve legal disputes with gift cards. “The Social Security Office and IRS never call you by phone,” she added.
Wilson said the most recent run-in with such a scam (prior to Harbin’s report) was two weeks ago, and the Erath County Sheriff’s Office had three reports of these scams last week.
“Once you read that number on the gift card, you won’t get your money back,” Wilson said.
She reported that the scammers sell these numbers online and they’re gone as soon as they’re read. She also said that most of the scams request iTunes because Apple has not been cooperative in investigations in the past.
Previous investigations have traced the scams back to Russia, who has also been uncooperative.
Wilson said anyone who receives a phone call like these should hang up, and invites anyone with questions to call the Dublin PD at 445-3455 to report a suspected scam or ask questions.