TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – A disabled veteran with a traumatic brain injury was on his laptop when the screen froze with an alarming message to call a phone number for help.
The Bay Area resident, who asked to keep his name private to avoid retaliation, said he called and spoke to someone who was “extremely persuasive”.
“I stumbled upon it,” he said.
It’s a growing problem across the country, involving millions of dollars and thousands of victims. A Federal Trade Commission report said gift card programs cost 40,000 people nearly $148 million in the first 9 months of last year.
For local victim, Lowes gift cards topped list for suspects seeking $8,000 to fix credit card problem and end scheme that would supposedly end in pornography possession charges juvenile if he did not pay.
“I felt like I was being held hostage by them. They kept me on the phone,” he said. “They said I had a time limit.”
He said his brain injury sustained while serving in the Cold War “absolutely” had an impact on the panic he felt.
By the time he realized he had been scammed, it was too late. Lowes officials told the victim and his wife that the cards were cashed using only the security codes on the back at stores in Texas and New Jersey.
“I didn’t know you could use a gift card without the card,” his wife said. “That has to change.”
Receipts showed the scheme cost him $7,500, including $5,000 in Lowes cards and an additional $2,000 from Target.
Target spokesman Brian Harper-Tibaldo said the retailer is “aware of the prevalence of gift card programs and takes them very seriously.”
“We have signs in our stores and share general safety tips with our team members through training, so they can stay alert and help customers the best they can,” Harper-Tibaldo said. . “This year, we have made additional efforts to help prevent gift card schemes, including communication to all of our stores, training for team members and new system restrictions.”
The victim said someone from Target contacted him since 8 on Your Side became involved.
Lowes spokesman Larry Costello said “The Company’s Fraud Enforcement Team and Customer Service Team have reviewed the matter and we appreciate the opportunity to continue working with [the victim.]”
“We take gift card fraud seriously and maintain practices designed to help reduce fraud, including in-store signage, online warnings and standard processes for associates,” Costello said. “We encourage associates to keep an eye out for troubled customers buying gift cards and to intervene as needed.”
The local victim’s wife is sure her husband seemed stressed, but she said no one stopped him from buying the gift cards. He said Target had a $500 limit but there was no limit at Lowes, allowing him to buy two $2,000 cards and one $1,000 card.
“We really hope [Lowes] change that policy,” his wife said. “There should be a limit.”
The victim hopes that what happened to them will educate others and help them avoid being victimized.
“It seemed legit. I asked them certain things and they got an answer for everything I asked them,” he said. “They knew the main credit card I was using. In fact, they transferred me from person to person at [that credit card company.] I went with them.
His decision to report the crime is rare, according to the FTC. In its 2021 report, it said there was $148 million in gift card fraud last year, the agency estimated that less than 5% of victims reported the crime.
For Lowe’s tips on avoiding gift card fraud, click here. For Target’s tips on avoiding gift card fraud, click here.