EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 23, 2014

Green Dot MoneyPak scam hits Haverhill

Residents taken for hundreds of dollars

By Mike LaBella

---- — HAVERHILL — Police are warning the public to beware of callers who threaten to shut off your electricity or are offering you a large sum of money and ask that you send payment or transaction fees by using reloadable and untraceable Greet Dot MoneyPak cards.

Police said they've received over a half dozen reports about phone call scams over the last few months, and that victims were bilked out of more than $5,000 after purchasing Green Dot money cards, which are essentially prepaid debit cards. Victims gave the callers the card numbers as requested, allowing the callers quick and easy access to the money.

Police said the callers were almost instantly able to have the money transferred into their own bank accounts, which are often in another country, making the transactions virtually impossible to trace.

Police Detective Lt. Robert Pistone said that in this latest method of scamming people, the victim is instructed to purchase a certain amount of dollars in Green Dot MoneyPak cards.

"Once they obtain the cards and call back, the scammer has the victim scratch the back of the Green Dot card to reveal a series of numbers and letters, and as the victim reads those off the scammer on the other end is simultaneously entering the information into their own account, which is typically out of the country and untraceable, and being credited with the funds," Pistone said.

"Lots of times the scammer will then trick the victim into going to get more cards because more funds are needed to cover additional costs, at which time the victim either falls for it and sends more or realizes that it is a scam," he said

Pistone said that in one recent instance, a Haverhill woman reported getting a call from a man with a Middle-Eastern accent, who called himself Sean, and who said he worked for the Federal Banking System and that she was chosen to receive a government grant of $7,000.

The caller asked the woman to pay a fee of $290 for the grant and an additional $600 for taxes on the grant. Police said the woman purchased two Green Dot MoneyPak cards, for the stated amounts, then called the man back and gave him the card numbers.

Police said only then did the woman finally get suspicious. She called the Green Dot company to try to stop the transaction, but it was too late.

There was no way of tracing where in the world the money went, police said.

Pistone said an officer was with the woman when her cell phone rang again and the caller instructed her to go to the Western Union office. Pistone said the officer got on the phone and asked the caller several questions, which the caller refused to answer. The caller asked the officer for his badge number and said the officer was interfering with government business. The caller then hung up.

Pistone said the caller was likely using an untraceable phone or was "spoofing" phone numbers and was making these calls from anywhere in the world.

In another recent incident, a man reported to police that his mother had received a phone call from a woman named Lisa, who claimed she represented National Grid and told the woman she'd been sent three notices about changing her electric meter. The caller demanded $998 within a half hour else the woman's electricity would be shut off. The caller instructed the woman to send the funds using a Green Dot MoneyPak card.

Police said the family sent the money using the Green Dot card. The man told police that only then did he realize it was a scam and decided to report it as he'd given out his family's information and was worried about identity theft.

Another scam that is going around the area is where family members are either being told that their relative needs bail money or their relative has been kidnapped and the caller either asks for Green Dot money cards or to wire funds through Western Union. Police said one victim was taken for over $5,000 when the caller said his nephew was in jail and money was needed for his bail.

An 83-year-old man reported being the victim of a Western Union scam. Pistone said the man had received a phone call from a young male who he thought was his grandson reporting he and his friends were arrested in Ohio for speeding and drug offense and needed $1,800.

Bail money was to be sent to a person named Montres Brawner in Maryland via Western union. The next day the elderly man was called by a "Sargent Miller" saying more bail money was needed. Police said the victim followed his instructions and sent the caller $5,200, directly from his bank account.

Pistone said any citizens who are contacted about winning sweepstakes or grants that require fees to be paid, especially through Green Dot cards or Western Union, should be considered highly suspect.

"The same goes for threats of utilities being threatened with turn-offs that are requiring immediate payment through Green Dot cards or Western Union," he said.

As far as the scams with requests for bail money or kidnappings, citizens should always call their local police immediately so that they may appropriately determine the credibility and appropriate actions to be taken, Pistone said.

"As always, if it seems too good to be true or you are being promised a prize that requires upfront money, it is too good to be true," he said.

Citizens may always call the police first if they are suspicious to avoid falling prey to these scams, Pistone said.

Last fall, the FBI's office in Atlanta, Georgia altered consumers to an emerging scam that had been reported throughout the country and was making an appearance in Georgia.

The FBI said 10 retail stores in Savannah had received telephonic bomb threats. In each case, the caller asked to speak to the store manager, demanding that 10 Green Dot MoneyPak cards each be activated and loaded with $500 and that the card numbers be read aloud over the phone. The caller threatened to blow up the stores if the managers did not comply and also threatened the store employees’ homes and families. No manager complied with the demands, and no explosive devices were found.

The FBI said subsequent investigation determined that these calls mirrored a number of similar telephonic threats made to various drug stores and retail outlets nationwide.

While the above incidents involved bomb threats, the types of threats varied, the FBI said.

According to the FBI, Green Dot MoneyPak cards are reloadable and available at most retail outlets throughout the country and, like money wire transfers, are just as untraceable. These cards are not associated with any bank, meaning that the money is in the card. Users of these Green Dot MoneyPak cards are reminded to never give anyone those numbers associated with those cards in that doing so gives them instant access to the money on those cards.