You tell that boss to buy his own darn gift cards

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A reader called to warn us that scammers are targeting working people, impersonating their bosses.

This scam involves a criminal posing as your boss or a big boss and emailing you with instructions to buy gift cards (most likely Amazon) for an important client. The boss can’t get away to buy the cards himself because he’s in an important meeting. Our reader was instructed to use his own credit card and get reimbursement from the company.

This kind of scam targets lower or middle management employees because they’re often overworked and lack sufficient time to check out the legitimacy of the “big boss” giving them an assignment. The crooks know the name of the boss at your company — probably gleaned it from the company website. They then set up an email account that’s very close to your company email but off just slightly. If you’re in a hurry and not paying close enough attention, it could be easy to miss this invaluable clue to a ruse.

That’s what happened to our reader. He purchased the gift cards, then was instructed to expose the gift card code and send the picture of the cards to the “big boss.” Probably within 30 minutes of doing this, the mistake was discovered, but as you guessed, the cards had all been drained of their value. That left our reader thousands of dollars in the red.

He called his credit card company and might get some relief, but given that he actually purchased the gift cards it will be hard to say if the credit card company will offer any reimbursement.

Turns out this reader isn’t alone. It has been reported that about 1,100 companies have been subject to this fraud in the last two years. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to help this reader, but he hopes his warning helps others before they fall victim.

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POLITICS PAYS (NOT): Since when do political organizations send us checks out of the blue? One of our readers received a $20 check from the Republican National Committee (RNC) with a notation on the check vendor account but no other information. This seemed strange since she’s never provided vendor services to the organization.

The check was drawn on the Chain Bridge Bank in Virginia. It appeared to the reader to be a legitimate check and there is a Chain Bridge Bank in Virginia. It’s a subsidiary of Chain Bridge Bancorp, Inc., a bank holding company registered with the Federal Reserve.

So what’s the catch? A call to the Republican National Committee yielded no clear answer as to why our reader was getting the check. A call to Chain Bridge Bank got us nowhere because they simply cited privacy policies preventing them from revealing if RNC is even an account holder. Research did reveal that the RNC was hacked back in December 2018.

Here’s our conclusion: It might be appealing to get $20 you weren’t expecting, but consider what it could cost you. If the check does happen to be legitimate and clears your bank, if it was written by scammers, now they will have your bank’s identity and your bank account number. Armed with that information and your name there’s no telling what that $20 check will actually cost you. Be safe and throw that check away. Heck, you weren’t expecting it anyway.

By the way, if you get a $35 check from Mike Pence, it’s phony. It’s actually a fundraising ploy.

While you’re at it, toss that one away too.

•••

THE ONE-RING TRICK: We know scammers engage in ID spoofing to make the number look like a local number or even our own number, but beware of the one-ring rip-off. Criminals program auto-dialers to repeatedly call, disconnecting after just one ring. This is a ploy to get you to call them back and tell them to stop calling, but don’t take the bait.

Often, the numbers that are calling our phones are from the area codes that Bill Brooks has warned us in the past to avoid. The area codes that we should not answer or call back include: 268, 284, 473, 664, 649, 767, 809, 829, 849 and 876.

These calls might look like they’re coming from a domestic number, but they’re not. If you call back you’ll be hit with an international fee plus the high per-minute charges that can really add up as you hold, waiting to lodge your complaint.

Bottom line: If you receive an unexpected call or text from an area code you don’t recognize, don’t answer it. If you want to know where the call originated, do a Google search to see where the number is registered. You should also block the call.

If you become a victim of this one-ring scam, you can file a complaint online with the Federal Communications Commission on their website: https://bit.ly/1vNxh0P

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Remember: I’m on your side.

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If you have encountered a consumer issue that you have questions about or think our readers should know about, please send me an email at terridickersonadvocate@gmail.com or call me at (208) 274-4458. As The CDA Press Consumer Gal, I’m here to help. Please include your name and a phone number or email. I’m available to speak about consumerism to schools, and local and civic groups. I’m a copywriter and consumer advocate living in Coeur d’Alene.

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