News10NBC Investigates: Why do scammers use gift cards? They're 'not traceable'

July 19, 2019 11:18 PM

MUMFORD, N.Y. (WHEC) -- News10NBC is learning new information in an investigation into a scam that drained the bank account of a 93-year-old viewer. 

The call to Alma McQuown in Mumford came just after the Fourth of July. It was a number she did not recognize. 


"They told me to go to Best Buy and get these gift cards and that they would pay me for them," McQuown said. 

She said the caller told her it was for a new business. She bought $1,700 in gift cards at Best Buy in Henrietta and $1,000 in gift cards at Walmart in Geneseo. 

News10NBC Chief Investigative Reporter Berkeley Brean: "Did anyone caution you, warn you that maybe you were being victimized here?"

Alma McQuown: "No."

In a 2018 report, the Federal Trade Commission said in 2015 that the number of people reporting they paid money in a gift card scam was seven percent. By 2016, it jumped to 26 percent. 

Randy Hoak, associate NYS director of AARP: "The reason that gift cards are used is because they're not traceable."

Randy Hoak is the associate state director of AARP. Here's his number one warning: gift cards cannot be used to pay back taxes or fines or for anything outside the store. 

Hoak: "I mean I think that's one of the key takeaways is if any one of these government agencies is looking for payment they're not going to call and they're not going to accept those forms of payment."

Brean: "Is there any way to get that money back?"

Hoak: "It's very difficult. And there are not too many successful stories we've got when it gets to that point."

Best Buy and Walmart are investigating what happened to Mrs. McQuown. Both stores told us they train employees to spot victims especially if they seem emotional. 

Boua Xiong, Best Buy: "That's when our employees will ask these questions like, 'do you know who you're buying these gift cards for?'"

Brean: "Did they ask you any question?"

McQuown: "No." 

Brean: "They didn't say, 'who are you buying these for?'"

Alma: "No. I just feel like I'm down and lost everything. That's the way I feel."

There's a $2,000 per day limit for gift cards at Best Buy. Remember, the caller told Alma to spend $1,700, which is under the limit. 

News10NBC got the following statement from Walmart Friday:

"We take these matters seriously and are frequently reviewing our fraud prevention measures to better protect our customers. If customers have questions or concerns, we encourage them to ask a member of management before following through with any purchase."


Berkeley Brean

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