Retired teacher loses $45,000 in gift card scam

Tag team of crooks

The woman offered to transfer the call to a “specialist” from American Express, and he identified himself as Kevin Wright and gave an employee identification number. When she denied buying porn before dawn that day, he acted like he didn’t believe her.

Wright and the woman were imposters. (After contacting Microsoft and American Express, Jo learned that neither company had had recent contact with her.)

Wright, says Jo, was often calm and reassuring. He said he would investigate the $15,000 charge, but she had to provide as many gift cards in case the charge was really his. After that, he kept insisting that she buy more cards.

Much of what he said didn’t make sense, she said, but she was terrified and when she asked him for an explanation, he became exasperated. On several occasions, he warned her not to tell others about the gift cards, alleging that it would hamper her attempt to prove her innocence.

That first day, Wright told her he would wait on the phone while she got dressed before going to the shops. That day, Jo used her American Express card to buy $8,000 in Apple gift cards, $5,000 in Macy’s cards and $2,000 in Target cards, giving Wright all the redemption codes. He also stayed on the call on her cell phone as she drove from store to store.

(For what these merchants said, see the separate story.)

Then Wright ordered him to withdraw $30,000 from his bank to buy more cards. On the second day, she visited three Apple stores and collected $9,000 in gift cards from each for a total of $27,000.

(Federal law requires merchants to report cash payments over $10,000 to the IRS, so it’s likely the scammer told Jo not to spend more than $9,000 at each Apple store for avoid further scrutiny, says Jack D. Smith, an anti-money laundering specialist who teaches at George Washington University Law School.)

Under Wright’s guidance on the third day, Jo spent $3,000 on Target cards with what was left of the bank withdrawal. This brought the grand total of all gift cards, which ranged in value from $500 to $2,000, to $45,000.

Jo says some clerks questioned her about purchases and a Macy’s supervisor even refused to let a sale pass. The scammer urged Jo to try another department within the same Macy’s, and the purchase was cleared. At the time, she says, she didn’t like retailers giving her “a hard time” and in response “made things up on the spot” and said some of the cards were for a niece.

Wright had another trick up her sleeve, sending Jo to two places to buy cryptocurrency, but luckily she couldn’t get the machines to work.

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