So my parents got scammed out of $6,000 today. They’re elderly, and they can’t really afford to lose that much. They’re a bit naive, because having been born abroad, they’re not really well versed in the plethora of scams perpetrated by fetid pieces of detritus all over the world. And worst part is that they love their family so much, that they completely lose any semblance of common sense when they think their children or grandchildren are in trouble.
This particular scam is not uncommon. It’s a well known ruse, and when I sent my dad to the police station to report it, the officer who took his report said he was the third complainant about that scam that day.
The scam is what’s known as the grandparent scam. It’s a variation on one that had been going around Germany a few years ago, in which a parent was ostensibly called by someone associated with their child and told the child had been involved in a crime and arrested, and of course, thousands of dollars were needed to bail said child out of jail. From what I gather, these were Russian speaking criminals, who specifically targeted Russian immigrants, and specifically looked for Russian sounding names in phone directories to swindle people out of money. In this particular case, the grandparent is informed that his or her grandchild is in jail and needs money for bail.
Roger made the mistake of saying his granddaughter Michelle’s name. The female voice didn’t sound familiar, but the woman jumped on Roger’s use of a name and said she was calling from California. She put a “lawyer” on the phone who said Michelle was riding in a car, when police stopped it and found a pound of marijuana under the driver’s seat. Because “Michelle” was riding in the car, she was being held in jail and needed $4,000 to make bail.
But the lawyer didn’t want $4,000 in a wire transfer or money order. He wanted Roger to purchase two $2,000 gift cards from Target.
Crazy as it sounded, Roger said he was so frazzled by his 35-year-old granddaughter possibly being held in jail that he ran to the bank to get $4,000 in cash. He then drove to the Target in Medford, Long Island, and bought the two gift cards.
This is exactly what happened to my father. He was so emotionally frazzled by the idea that Danny was in jail for a DUI, he immediately ran over to Target and purchased four gift cards to send to the scammer.
He was also warned not to contact me, because Danny signed some paperwork that required confidentiality. Not being versed in bail procedures, or legal procedures of any kind, my father – a man with two Masters degrees in engineering – got so frightened at the idea of his grandson being in jail, he kept this from me until it was too late.
This is what these people do. They prey on the fears of the elderly, whom they consider easy marks, and who are likely unfamiliar with the details of such scams, and they strike.
Target is another story, however.
The caller demanded that my father buy the cards with cash, call him back, and give him the gift card numbers over the phone. When my father went back to the Target where he bought the cards three hours later and asked them to flag and cancel those gift cards, they had already been redeemed in another state.
They redeemed the gift cards without having them in hand. Just like that.
A customer came in with $6000 in cash and bought four gift cards. A transaction that large should have set off at least SOME alarm bells.
Structuring of a large transaction into four smaller ones. It’s not quite smurfing as it’s done in financial transfers, but again, any company that deals in cash and gift cards should at least train their personnel to spot suspicious transactions!
And then there’s the redeeming of a large transaction amount in another state. No ID needed. No actual card present. The cards were redeemed in another state within a couple of hours. No one at Target thought this was in any way sketchy? There was no need to have the actual card present?
A little training and awareness would have raised red flags – especially when a customer smurfed a large amount of cash into four smaller transactions, and especially when the cards were then redeemed almost immediately in another state.
Target was aware their gift cards were being used in such a manner, and took what appears to be zero steps in mitigating the problem. When a New York TV station contacted Target public affairs for a statement, they received a canned statement, and never answered the reporter’s question about why these gift cards could be converted or redeemed in another state.
“Target is committed to providing a secure environment for our guests and team members. As a part of that commitment, we take a multi-layered, comprehensive approach to preventing theft and fraud that includes innovative programs and partnerships with local law enforcement, technology and team member training. We are aware of scams like these and have communicated to our store teams in the area. Additionally, we are actively working with law enforcement.”
Actively working with law enforcement, are ya?
Then why is it that an obvious illicit financial red flag was either ignored or missed by your personnel – both on the purchasing end and on the redeeming end?
The Internet is filled with information about financial red flags. You know what is usually first on the list? Be alert to the customer who wants to purchase multiple gift cards, particularly in large dollar denominations.
You know what the best advice is when one is redeeming gift cards? Ask for photo ID!
After being made aware that their cards were being used in a scam, Target, despite their claims to the contrary, apparently did little to nothing to mitigate this problem.
Or, they have morons for employees.
Look, I understand that ultimately, my parents are responsible for becoming victims. They are vulnerable, not always informed, and driven by emotions and a passionate love for their kids and grandkids. That’s why, when someone called claiming their grandchild was in trouble, they sprung into action without thinking, without contacting me, and with only one thought: must help Danny!
My father didn’t ask Target to refund the money. He didn’t cause a scene. He merely asked them to flag the gift cards as fraudulent and deny the transaction if anyone attempted to redeem them. But it was too late. Without so much as a blink, Target allowed $6000 in gift cards to be redeemed within an hour of purchase. In another state. Without ID. And without the cards even being present.
It’s a tough lesson to learn for my parents, for sure.
That said, Target’s inability or unwillingness to mitigate the problem even slightly, after having known about it for several months, and the lack of common sense among their employees when they allowed this transaction to occur without a second glance, and worse yet, allowed the cards to be redeemed in another state without the card being present and without ID being presented almost immediately after the purchase was made, that’s on them.
It’s appalling. I guess being hacked a few years ago didn’t make them any more cautious.
My parents learned. They will call me before doing anything like this again, and I will make sure they don’t screw up.
Target hasn’t learned yet.