It breaks my heart when I hear of a resident being scammed out of their hard-earned money. Sometimes it is only a few hundred dollars, but more often it is thousands of dollars that residents are losing, having fallen for the scammers’ trickery and sending money via wire transfer or gift cards. Yes… “gift cards.” This is not a new tactic, but we have been seeing an increase in incidents where criminals are convincing people to pay them using gift cards.

Scammers will pretend to be pretty much anything when calling with a scam. They could be pretending to be from the IRS, Microsoft or a local utility company. They could be pretending to be from a tech support company advising that your computer has a virus. Scammers have even been successful pretending to be your own grandchild calling from jail, needing your help. The company name and the reason for the call may change, but all of these scams have one thing in common. They advise that you need to pay something. This might be to avoid arrest, to pay a fine, help your grandchild find a lawyer/get out of jail, or make the computer virus go away.

The victim is told that he or she can pay the fine with a gift card (for example, a “Money Pack,” “iTunes” or “Amazon” gift card). Once the gift card is purchased and the scammer gets the victim to provide the gift card numbers over the phone or via email, the scammer then drains the value of the gift card and oftentimes convinces the victim to go back to the store to buy additional gift cards. When the person finally realizes they have fallen victim to a scam, the gift cards have a zero balance and their hard-earned money is gone.

On the surface, these scams seem easy to spot, and it may seem hard to believe that thousands of Americans have been swindled out of millions of dollars. Scammers, however, are highly trained and very convincing. They often use fear and intimidation as scare tactics to convince their victims to act immediately. They may even threaten arrest, violence, public embarrassment or lawsuits.

If you get a phone call from someone telling you to make a payment with gift cards, hang up the phone. If you get an email from a company telling you to make a payment with gift cards, delete it. Don’t be fooled. If you have any doubt that the call or email is legitimate, contact the company yourself. Don’t blindly trust the caller ID on your phone or simply call the number given to you on the voice message. Don’t respond to the email or click any of the links inside of it. Look up the company’s information and initiate the call/email yourself.

Learn more! As part of the Naperville Police Department’s commitment to make Naperville “A Safer Naper” through education, we will host two presentations on Fraud and Scam Prevention.

Presentations will be held on Tues., Feb. 26, from 1 to 2PM at the 95th Street Library, 3015 Cedar Glade Drive, and Wed., Feb. 27, from 6:30 to 7:30PM at the Municipal Center, 400 S. Eagle Street.

Until next month… Stay Aware and Stay Safe.