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News10NBC Investigates: Widow who fell for gift card scam says 'I feel like I lost everything'

July 18, 2019 06:53 PM

MUMFORD, N.Y. (WHEC) -- The gift card scam has been around for a long time. Strange callers, who are up to no good, convince people to buy the cards and share the card numbers with the promise of a fictitious jackpot.

News10NBC has been aware of this scam but we've never been able to talk to someone who was a victim of this kind of crime.

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Until now. 

A 93-year-old widow agreed to talk to News10NBC Chief Investigative Reporter Berkeley Brean so that no one else endures what she has suffered.

Alma McQuown of Mumford says she is always careful. But the people who called her were so smooth and so convincing, she fell for it. 

"I just feel like I'm down and lost everything," McQuown said. "That's the way I feel."

The problem started just after the Fourth of July, when McQuown got a call from a number she didn't know. 

"They told me to go to Best Buy and get these gift cards and that they would pay me for them," she said. McQuown says she was promised money in return. 

News10NBC Chief Investigative Reporter Berkeley Brean: "How much money did they say you had coming?"

Alma McQuown: "They didn't. They just said you'd be surprised at the amount they were going to give me."

When no money came, McQuown says she knew she was in trouble and that's when we were contacted. With McQuown's permission, her neighbor, Sharon Skalny, along with News10NBC, went through her phone history. The log shows she had multiple calls from the same number. 

At 5:55 p.m. on July 5, McQuown says the caller told her to go to Best Buy in Henrietta, buy the gift cards but never hang up. The log shows the call lasted 74 minutes. McQuown's bank records show she bought $1,700 in gift cards at Best Buy. 

On July 6, a call from the same number convinced McQuown to buy $1,000 in gift cards from the Walmart in Geneseo. The log shows that call lasted 109 minutes. 

Brean: "When you gave them the numbers, did they say anything to you?"

McQuown: "Well they just thanked me and told me I could go home now."

The $2,700 McQuown spent on gift cards wiped out her account. 

On Thursday, News10NBC called the number that called McQuown. An automated message said no one was available. 

As soon as we were contacted about this story, we contacted Best Buy and Walmart. 

On Thursday, we reached Best Buy on Facetime. 

Spokesperson Boua Xiong told us the company is investigating so she could not talk about McQuown's case. But Xiong says Best Buy's staff is trained to spot people in trouble and ask questions. 

Boua Xiong, Best Buy: "So if we suspect that if someone is buying these gift cards and they're emotional or something doesn't feel right, that's when our employees will ask these questions like 'do you know who you're buying these gift cards for?'"

Click here to watch the warning video produced by Best Buy and AARP. 

McQuown says she was never asked any questions when she bought the cards at Best Buy.

Brean: "Did you go in and specifically say 'I want $1,700 worth of gift cards'?"

McQuown: "Yes."

Brean: "So when you went into those stores and you were buying those gift cards, did they ask you any questions?"

McQuown: "No." 

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

McQuown: "No."

News10NBC shared all the evidence we collected with Best Buy and Walmart. Both companies are investigating. McQuown talked to us in order to warn you. 

"It's all lies," she said. "And they are smooth talkers."

Best Buy says it has a cap of $2,000 in gift cards per day. Best Buy says it's not uncommon for people to buy gift cards for expensive products. It also wants you to know that gift cards cannot be used to buy other things outside the store. 

Credits

Berkeley Brean

Copyright 2019 - WHEC-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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