Gift card scams on the rise and taking thousands from local residents

LOGAN —Scams are again on the rise and local law enforcement agencies are sounding an alarm. The fraudsters are successfully conning thousands of dollars from local residents, most of the time through the purchasing of gift cards.

Detective Johnson with the Logan City Police Department is one of the primary investigators for these types of cases. He said the number of scams have increased during the last several months and are now being reported to police daily.

“It is not necessarily targeted to one specific group,” explained Johnson. “Persons of all ages, creeds, and genders are all getting these calls.”

Many of the victims reported receiving a phone call, stating there was a warrant out for their arrest, a utility bill was due or other type of emergency. In almost all cases, the caller is very emotional and demanding immediate payment. Their phone number can even appear like they are calling from a legitimate company.

Johnson said the scammers sound very believable. They often have information about the victim that they have found online.

“They play on basic human emotions, whether it be greed, sympathy or fear. Maybe they threaten arrest, or claim to be from the IRS and are going to seize the victim’s house. They might also claim that the victim is being investigated for a criminal wrongdoing. The callers pray upon these basic fears that we have as human beings, those basic emotions.”

The callers explain they need payment through gift cards in order to resolve the warrant or settle the utility bill. They encourage the victims to purchase the cards at local department stores and then give them the card numbers.

Johnson said the use of gift cards is the common denominator in all of these types of scams.

“I will tell you, no government organization, no legitimate business entity, no one uses gift cards as currency. No one uses gift cards as payment.”

Scammers prefer gift cards and bitcoins because they are able to be transferred electronically around the world. They also are very difficult for law enforcement agencies to track and retrieve.

Johnson said police officers are trying to help residents to remember three things if they receive scams of this nature.

“Just know, when you hear the word ‘gift card’ it is a scam. So just take a breath. Remember: pause, stop and call a cop.”

AARP, the advocacy group for older Americans, reports around 1 in 10 people have fallen victim to gift card scams. Gift cards have topped the list of reported fraud payment methods each year since 2018, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

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