Should your retailer protect you from gift card scams? One victim’s story

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In consumer news, I examine your retailer’s responsibility. The FTC says that by October of this year, Americans had already lost almost $80 million to gift card fraud.

I wrote about one such victim on Dec. 18. Phone scammers convinced Joy Jones to buy $10,000 in gift cards. It was her life savings. The scheme is so common, the National Gift Card Association urges retailers to train clerks in how to spot it. So that begs the question. Were the clerks who sold joy thousands in gift cards trained to spot fraud?

Joy’s nightmare began when she received a phone call from someone who claimed to be an FBI agent. She told Joy that her identity had been compromised by thieves who had rented a car in her name. The scammer told Joy that human blood had been found in the rental car and there was evidence that tied her to drug trafficking. Initially, Joy didn’t believe the caller. She hung up and googled the number the scammer had called her from. It was a Texas-based bureau of the FBI.

The scammer told her thieves had access to her bank account and she needed to withdraw all her money. For five hours the so-called FBI agent kept her on the phone while directing her to stores across the greater Rochester area buying $10,000 in gift cards.

"They told me to make sure I keep the receipts very close and tight, and they also had me read the numbers off to them," Joy said.

They assured her that reading the numbers to them would enable law enforcement to keep her money safe. The scam is so common, The National Gift Card Association tells retailers to “watch for suspicious buyer behavior like purchasing gift cards in large quantities."

Wegmans was one of the stores where Joy bought thousands in gift cards. A manager assisted her.

"She was like, can you come to customer service. I need you to fill out a form," Joy said.

Joy says the manager asked basic questions like her name and employer but did not question her about why she was buying such large quantities, nor did she warn her about the possibility of fraud.

In two separate emails a Wegmans told me the following:

“We have confirmed all protocols were followed. All front-end and customer service desk employees are required to complete an annual training course regarding gift card policies and potential fraud awareness. We have a gift card limit in place at the register, so if a customer is purchasing a high-dollar amount of gift cards, the cashier is prompted to get a manager involved in order to complete the purchase. Our front-end management is trained to ask a series of questions whenever there is a suspicious transaction. In addition, we are required by law to gather information when a customer is purchasing over $2,000 of merchant cards or over $1,000 in credit-card-type gift cards.”

The thieves also told a panicked Joy to buy gift cards at Tops. One clerk sold her $4,000 in gift cards. She says the clerk rang it up as four separate $1,000 transactions and didn’t question Joy about the large number of cards.

Tops investigated the case.

A spokesman told me the following:

“We are extremely sorry to hear of what happened to Ms. Jones.

Our consumer affairs team as well as our asset protection department did a thorough check into this occurrence. As mentioned previously we have several steps in place to help with fraud. Because the transactions never met our threshold purchase quotas, these transactions never triggered those protocols.

Additionally, in checking with asset protection even though she filed a police report, the police never contacted Tops regarding the incident so we were never made aware that something occurred and therefore were not able to follow up properly. When we are made aware within hours of a fraud incident, we often are able to better assist a customer in working with the credit card companies in stopping the transactions or assisting in obtaining some of the monies back.

Lastly, we certainly will work with our associate who was on the job for one week at the time these transactions occurred to make sure they again are aware of the signs to look for in the case of fraud. Please know we are not making excuses for why or how the incident occurred, but rather simply providing the facts of our internal investigation.

Thank you for bringing this to light not only for our team but for the general public to be vigilant to those who are taking advantage of others, especially during this time of year.”

Joy also bought gift cards at Target, but in that case, she used self-checkout. I asked spokespeople for Wegmans and Tops for more specifics regarding their protocols. Both insist their protocols are triggered when a customer spends a certain amount on gift cards, and in this case, clerks followed protocol. Click here for The National Gift Card Association’s information on gift card safety.

Joy’s family has established a GoFundMe for the single mother. Click here.