One general question that comes to mind when people are considering an offer that may seem just a little too good to be true is, “Is this a scam?” Scams run the gamut from being blatantly obvious to more elaborate and crafty. Business Consumer Alliance receives countless calls, emails, letters, and complaints about scams involving prizes, grants, pet purchases, collections, family emergencies, travel, etc. What we have discovered is that almost all of the culprits involved want money and they want it fast. Here is a list of the most common ways they go about it: ask the victim to send money by wiring money, by putting funds on a gift card, or by purchasing cash reload cards. If you are asked to make payment by any of these methods, it’s a scam.
Because the main goal of these crooks is to get money without it being undetected or untraceable, they use these payment options to grab the money fast. By the time the victim becomes aware that they have been scammed, the thieves have already got the funds and are on to their next prey.
Here is a sample of how the scam works:
Someone contacts you to say you’ve won a prize, have not paid a bill, or that a loved one is in trouble and that payment is needed immediately to resolve the issue or claim your winnings. They direct you to go to a money transfer location, such as Western Union or MoneyGram. There you wire money to a person—usually a fictitious name. The money is sent to the scammers on the other end and they disappear.
Or they may ask you to visit a local store to load funds onto a gift card (such as an iTunes gift card) or cash reload card (e.g., Reloadit or Vanilla Reload Card). Once you do, they ask for the registration number on the back of the card. This gives them access to drain the funds from the card.
In each instance, the money is usually never recovered. It is like giving someone cash. Although recent actions taken against Western Union for their part in allowing customers to be defrauded will result in some of those harmed by scams to get a refund, it is important to recognize a possible scam before you lose your money. As a rule of thumb, never send money to anyone you do not know, who pressures you to send funds via the methods mentioned here, or anyone you have not researched beforehand.
If in doubt, contact BCA to ask questions about the offer or demand for payment. We have helpful resources on recognizing prize scams, money transfer services, dealing with collectors, family emergency scams, and much more. You can also file a complaint to let us know about recent scams and issues that we can alert other consumers about.
About Business Consumer Alliance
Business Consumer Alliance (BCA) is a non-profit company that started in 1928. The broad purpose of BCA is to promote business self-regulation. BCA's mission is achieved by assisting consumers in resolving complaints with businesses and using that complaint information, along with other relevant information such as customer reviews, to forecast business reliability. With community support, BCA can identify trustworthy and ethical businesses and warn the public to avoid unscrupulous businesses whose purpose is to defraud the marketplace. BCA also helps businesses promote themselves by providing services and tools to protect their business and reach out to their customers. BCA obtains its funding from member businesses who support the mission and purpose of the organization and who agree to abide by high standards of ethical business practices.