Debit card scam hits R-C area

Published 6:35 pm Sunday, February 17, 2013

Reloadable debit cards are becoming more and more popular, especially among those who shop using PayPal.

However, these legitimate cards are also popular among scammers, those looking to bilk money from innocent card holders.

The scam works in several ways. In some cases, scammers call victims and tell them their electricity or other utilities will be disconnected if they don’t make a payment. In one local case, a victim was told he’d won a very large sum of money from Publisher’s Clearing House and would be charged a transaction fee to cover the taxes for his winnings.

The Publisher Clearing House scam is reportedly surfacing in the Roanoke-Chowan area.

Recently, three local citizens – one in Hertford County and two in Gates County – have been contacted by an alleged scammer. Thelma Askew of Roanoke-Chowan SAFE reported these scam attempts to the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald as well as the North Carolina Attorney General’s office.

Askew said in each case, the victims have been instructed to purchase a Green Dot “Money Pak” or debit card in the amount of $499. These types of cards are available at local retail stores.

The scam works when the card holder provides the card’s pin number to the scammer during a telephone call. Once the scammer has the PIN information, they can transfer the money immediately to another account. Once transferred, the victim’s money is lost.

Askew said local victims are receiving phone calls from a person identifying himself as David Sawyer with Publisher’s Clearing House. She added that the call was originating from Jamaica (876-568-0498).

“The victim is told they have won a million dollars from a Publisher’s Clearing House contest,” Askew explained. “The victim is then instructed to go to the nearest Walmart, CVS Pharmacy or Radio Shack and purchase one of those Green Dot cards.”

She added that the scam includes the caller asking for the victim’s cell phone number…..“so he can call you when you arrive at the store to give you more instructions about how to claim your winnings.”

In one particular local instance, the victim was told to go to Radio Shack and purchase two Green Dot cards in the amount of $499 each.

“The scammer then explains that the cards have a 14 digit, scratch-off number on the back of the card,” Askew said. “The victim is told to scratch off that area of the card, revealing that number, which is actually the card’s PIN, and he will call for those numbers and, in turn, the victim will receive their $1 million prize.”

Askew added that the scammer informs his victim not to reveal to the store clerk the reason for the $499 (or in this case, $998) worth of pre-loaded debt on the card.

“He warned them if they told the clerk they had won a million dollars, the clerk may try and get their money,” Askew said. “He also advised the victim not to tell anyone about their million-dollar winnings, not even family and friends, until after they receive that money.

“He has good answers to all their questions,” Askew continued. “He says he’s been doing this for Publisher’s Clearing House for five years, giving away millions of dollars. He said all those TV ads you see of winners of that contest are filmed only after they have pre-paid the taxes on that money and that’s what you’re doing with these Green Dot cards, paying those taxes.”

What occurred next in the case that Askew had knowledge of was frightening.

“The phone conversation from Mr. Sawyer turns real intimidating if the victim refuses to cooperate,” she said. “His voice becomes angry, telling you to get in that store and buy those cards. He says I’ll be watching you…you can’t see me but I can see you.

“He says if you try and contact the police, he knows where you live and who your family is and threatens to do harm to them, including cutting their heads off, if you do not do what he says,” Askew continued. “If the victim decides to still take a stand against what he’s saying, he’ll hang-up and calls you back a short time later, saying he’s been to your house and no one was at home and he planted a bomb inside. He says he will wait for you to return home and detonate it. All these threats are really intimidating, especially to a senior citizen, who were the victims in all three of the local cases I know about. Even though this guy is in Jamaica, they don’t know that and feel threatened.”

Askew stated that the victims she was aware of did not want to go public with their cases, even to the police, because they felt embarrassed about being scammed.

Officials with Green Dot offered the following tips on how to protect yourself from fraud while using their product:

Never give your MoneyPak number to someone you don’t know;

Never give receipt information about your MoneyPak purchase to another party;

Use your MoneyPak only to reload your prepaid cards or accounts you control;

Refuse any offer that asks you to buy a MoneyPak and share the number or receipt information by email or phone;

To use your MoneyPak with PayPal or eBay or other online merchants, transfer the money to your PayPal account before you pay the merchant. Don’t email your MoneyPak number directly to any merchant; and

Don’t use the MoneyPak to pay taxes or fees to claim “winnings” on a foreign lottery or prize promotion. Unless it’s an approved MoneyPak partner, don’t use MoneyPak for any offer that requires you to pay before you get the item.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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