The FBI and the Better Business Bureau have each in the past few days warned consumers to watch out for Christmas scams.
The warnings happened accidentally while exchanging emails with a vacation cheater.
The first message I got supposedly was from Brian Borsook, a real doctor in Torrance.
“Hello,” said the email. “Just wondering if I can get you a quick favor.”
Sure, I answered. I keep getting emails from medical professionals (some of which are turning into columns, like last week’s article of leaked documents showing huge markup from Scripps Memorial Hospital).
“Nice to hear from you,” was the reply. “I’m so sorry to bother you with this email.”
Then came the hint that I wasn’t really talking to Dr. Borsook corresponded.
“I need Google Play gift cards for my friend,” the email read. “I can’t do that now because I’m currently isolated from Covid and tried to shop online, but unfortunately no luck with it.”
What are the problems here? Let’s count the ways.
First gift cards. I can’t say this strongly enough: any online request for undetectable non-refundable gift cards is a scam. This is especially true if you’re not sure which person or organization is making the request.
Second, the scammer said he couldn’t buy the gift cards himself (I’m assuming it’s a guy; most scammers are). He holed up with COVID-19.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, pandemic-related scams have skyrocketed since early 2020. Nearly 280,000 COVID fraud reports have been filed with the agency, with losses of nearly $ 650 million.
Finally, the scammer said he tried to buy gift cards online but had no luck. It’s just silly. There are tons of websites that sell gift cards. You can also buy gift cards direct from individual retailers, including Google Play.
“Can you get it at any store near you?” the impostor asked me. âI’ll pay it back as soon as I get back. Let me know if you can handle this. Wait for your reply as soon as possible. “
I didn’t keep him waiting long. I asked how many gift cards he needed.
“Okay, thanks,” replied the wrong Dr. Borsook. “You need to get the $ 100 x $ 5 card and scratch the back of the 5 cards to reveal the pins, then take a photo of the back of the cards showing the pins.”
That said, he outrageously directed me to give him the card numbers and PINs for gift cards valued at $ 500.
Once I did that, the scammer told me he would pass the information on to his girlfriend and she would have a Merry Christmas. And in case I was too grinchy to let that motivate me, I was told it was her birthday too.
I asked where to buy the gift cards. The scammer helpfully said they are available at Walgreens, Target, Dollar General, Kroger, CVS, 7-Eleven, and Best Buy.
It was finally time for me to take control of things.
“I’m sorry to be rude,” I wrote back, “but how do we know each other again?”
And that’s where the conversation stopped. The scammer who didn’t have a good answer to this question moved on to another potential victim.
A spokesman for the practice Dr. Borsook in Torrance said I wasn’t the first to ask for questionable emails on his behalf. Apparently the evil twin of the good doctor has reached a number of people in the region and thus brought him to life as well.
“Yes, we are aware of this and have it examined by our IT staff,” said the spokesman.
The IT guy is unlikely to find much other than that the scammer uses a common trick when it comes to online scam programs.
Although the emails appear to be from “Brian Borsook,” a closer look at the sender’s Gmail address reveals that they added an additional letter – “Borsoook”.
It’s all too easy for email recipients to overlook such subtle changes that make a fake email look real. It also saves the fraudster from hacking into an actual email account.
Always check the web or email address of any suspicious request or offer. Extra letters or characters tell you it isn’t.
The FBI says its Internet Crime Complaint Center received a record number of fraud reports over the past year – nearly 800,000.
“Scammers don’t go on vacation, unfortunately, and the most important thing on their list right now is stealing people’s hard-earned money,” the agency warned in a recent announcement.
She advised consumers to stay away from unfamiliar websites that promise big discounts on branded items. It also called each request for gift cards “a big red flag for fraud”.
For its part, the Better Business Bureau says vacation fraud is on the rise and that consumers should be extra careful with offers or inquiries via email or social media.
“Be careful if you come across social media advertisements for discounted items, event promotions, job offers and donation requests, and direct messages from strangers,” the organization warned.
“If you are asked to make a payment or donation by wire transfer, electronic transfer, third party, prepaid debit or gift card, treat it as a red flag.”
Also, keep in mind that scammers are taking advantage of the “gift giving season” with bogus charity requests, not to mention requests for bogus charities.
Make sure you are dealing with a real nonprofit group. Check out sites like Charity Navigator and CharityWatch.
Use credit cards only for online transactions. Your chances of being protected from fraud are much better than using a debit card or most other means of payment.
And while it’s nice to think that any one of us could be contacted by a celebrity at any moment, that doesn’t happen much in real life. So ignore any email or social media contacts who claim to be from a movie or television star.
Yes, that includes Keanu Reeves, who scammers want us to believe is busy every waking hour connecting with fans online and asking them for money. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t.
Oh, and the wrong Dr. Borsook, you might want to be more careful about choosing your intended victims. Targeting a latimes.com email address for someone who writes about scams frequently is probably not the smartest move.
However, please send me the location where I can drop off these gift cards. I totally promise not to give it to the FBI right away. Trust me.