Voice of the consumer: That wasn't me endorsing phony trust fund

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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KKTV) - 11 News lead Call For Action investigator Katie Pelton pens a weekly column for our news partner The Gazette. Previous columns can be found here.

Now is the time to start planning your Black Friday shopping if you’re planning on taking part. Do your research about the products and pricing before you head out to the stores so you know what’s a good deal. If you’re shopping online, make sure to check the website very carefully because scammers like to change one letter or number to mimic legitimate sites. Don’t lose your money to scammers this holiday season. And if gift cards are on your list, then make sure to read this column to look out for the latest scheme hitting our area.

The Colorado Springs Police Department foiled a ring of crooks who are swapping out the bar codes on the back of gift cards. The way it works, the bad guys are stealing gift cards from stores and cutting off the activation bar code on the back. Then they go back to a store and place the stolen bar code on a new gift card. When you go to purchase the gift card, you’re unknowingly swiping their stolen bar code and putting the money onto their account.

“So when you as a consumer go and load that card with money, you’re actually loading their activated gift card,” said CSPD Detective Brian Corrado. “They’re managing those gift cards online or through an application, like a mobile app, and they’ll get an alert when that gift card has been activated and money has been loaded onto it.”

Police told us they have arrested about a half-dozen suspects, but they don’t know how many of these bogus gift cards are still out there. They are asking the public to be careful when you buy gift cards this holiday season. Check the physical card closely before you check out.

“There’s usually a little slice in the back of the card and then there will be a peel back where the bar code would be and you can see where it’s already probably been peeled back a little bit,” said Corrado. “The thickness of the card will be a little bit different where that bar code’s been inserted over the original gift card.”

Always keep your receipt in case you have a problem with the card. If you find a gift card that could be connected to this scheme, report it to police and the store manager.

On another note, every once in a while, the scams become personal and this week, they sure did. Scammers are posing as me on social media. The crooks used my name and picture to create phony Facebook and Instagram profiles. They racked up hundreds of followers and sent weird messages to viewers. I talked to one man who responded to the bad guys because he thought it was me.

“I’m thinking this is kind of cool, so I accept the follow,” said Jeff. “The further along it went, the stranger it went.”

Jeff sent me the correspondence he had with the scammers. The crooks asked Jeff if he knew about a trust fund program. When I searched the name online, I couldn’t find anything on it. The con artist said Jeff could claim $50,000 or more through the organization. They sent Jeff a link and asked for his personal information. He knew it was a scam and reached out to the newsroom to let us know.

“The fictitious you was talking about how great this ‘give back money society’ was and was trying to get me to go to this unsecure website,” said Jeff. “I think somehow by clicking onto that insecure link that it would have gotten into my phone and any possible banking information and all of that stuff.”

If you get a message like this from me, or from a friend or family member, you should mark the message as ‘spam’ and report it to Facebook or Instagram. I would also call your friend directly to make sure their account wasn’t hacked. Never give out personal information or money without verifying who you’re talking with.

If you missed last week’s AARP “Scam Proof Your Life” event, we streamed the entire panel so you can watch it back on our website. To find the video, go to www.KKTV.com and click on the red Find It tab.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! I’ll share more tips next week about how to shop safely online in time for Cyber Monday!

Click here to read the original column on gazette.com.