MISSION HILLS, Kan. — More than 3 million people complained they were scammed out of nearly $2 billion last year, according to a Federal Trade Commission spokeswoman.
It’s something most people think will never happen to them – until it does.
“I came home, and I followed the directions,” said Susi Cohen, who works as a personal assistant for several wealthy clients.
Cohen is no fool, but she had no idea she was about to fall victim to an increasingly common scam.
She was following the directions provided to her in an email from what she thought was one of her wealthy clients. It was a request to purchase $500 in Google Play gift cards.
The email instructed Cohen to scratch off the numbers on the back of the cards, take a picture of them and email them to her client.
The email stated that the card numbers would be given to the client’s niece as a birthday gift.
“For what I do as a living is that not only a reasonable request, it is virtually a constant request,” Cohen said.
Cohen was unfamiliar with Google Play gift cards, which are sold in most stores and can only be used to purchase internet-based gifts, including movies, video games and ebooks.
She had to buy three Google Play cards to get up to $500. As instructed, she scratched off the numbers on the back. But she had trouble emailing a photo of the numbers to her client.
“I am not very techno-savvy, and I couldn’t figure out how to attach that to the chain of emails going on,” Cohen said.
That was lucky.
When Cohen created a new email to send the photo, she used her client’s actual aol.com address, never realizing that the request came from someone using an outlook.com address.
Instead of sending the Google Play cards to the scammer, Cohen sent them to her actual client – who informed her she had been hacked.
Although Cohen didn’t lose money to the scammer, she did lose money to Google Play. She doesn’t even have a Google Play account, nor does she want one.
Cohen asked Google Play for a refund, offering to provide the email chain proving she had been scammed. But Google Play didn’t care, she said.
“They told me to pound sand,” Cohen said.
Google Play gift cards are among the most popular ways scammers like to be paid.
The kind of scam Cohen fell victim to is called the impostor scam – someone pretending to be someone you know or should trust, including a romantic partner, a family member, a well-known business or a government employee.
The FTC said whenever anyone contacts you by phone or email, wanting to be paid by gift card – it’s a safe assumption it’s a scam.
It’s such a common scam that many retail stores now require people to talk to a manager if they are buying more than $500 in gift cards.
Unfortunately, many scammers know this, which is most likely why Cohen’s scammer didn’t ask for more than $500.
Problem Solvers called Google Play, hoping to get Cohen’s money back. We have yet to hear back.
While Problem Solvers and Cohen wait for an answer, Cohen has deposited the Google Play money in a friend’s Google Play account for safe keeping.