In recent days, the FBI and the Better Business Bureau have warned consumers to be vigilant for holiday scams.
As it turns out, the alerts were issued just as I was exchanging emails with the holiday scammer.
The first message I received was supposedly from Brian Borsuk, real doctor in Torrance.
“Hi,” the letter said. “Just wondering if I can get a quick favor from you.”
Of course, I answered. I get emails all the time from people in the medical field (some of them turn into columns, for example, piece from last week including leaked documents that showed Scripps Memorial Hospital’s huge markups).
“Glad to hear from you,” came the reply. “I’m sorry to bother you with this mail.”
Then came the clue that I had not actually corresponded with the doctor. Borsuk.
“I need to get Google Play Gift Cards for my friend,” the email states. “I can’t do it right now because I’m currently in lockdown due to Covid and I tried to shop online but unfortunately I didn’t succeed.”
What are the problems here? Let’s count the ways.
First, gift cards. I can’t say this strongly enough: any online request for untraceable, non-refundable gift cards is a scam. This is especially true if you are unsure of the person or organization making the request.
Second, the scammer said he couldn’t buy gift cards himself (I’m assuming it’s a guy; most scammers). He’s stuck with COVID-19.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, pandemic related scam have risen sharply since the beginning of 2020. Nearly 280,000 COVID-related fraud reports have been filed with the agency, with losses approaching $650 million.
Finally, the scammer said he tried to buy gift cards online, but was unsuccessful. It’s just stupid. There are many websites that sell gift cards. You can also purchase gift cards directly from selected merchants, including google play.
“Can you get it at any store around you?” the swindler asked me. “I will refund the money as soon as I return. Let me know if you can handle it. I look forward to your prompt reply.”
I didn’t make him wait long. I asked him how many gift cards he needed.
“Okay, thanks” – Fake Doctor. Borsuk replied. “I need you to take a $100 x 5 card and scratch the back of 5 cards to see the pins and then take a photo of the back of the cards showing the pin.”
That is, he brazenly instructed me to provide him with card numbers and PIN codes for $500 gift cards.
Once I do that, the scammer told me, he will send the information to his girlfriend and she will have a Merry Christmas. And just in case I was too much of a Grinchie to be motivated by it, I was told that her birthday was coming up soon too.
I asked where I should buy gift cards. The scammer helpfully said they were available at Walgreens, Target, Dollar General, Kroger, CVS, 7-Eleven, and Best Buy.
Finally, it’s time to take control of the situation.
“Sorry to be rude,” I wrote back, “but how do we get to know each other again?”
And that’s where the conversation ended. The scammer, not having a good answer to this question, moved on to another potential victim.
Representative Dr. Borsuk’s practice in Torrance said I’m not the first to look into questionable emails on his behalf. Apparently, the good doctor’s evil twin has contacted several people in the region, thus becoming a victim of him as well.
“Yes, we are aware of this and our IT is looking into it,” the spokesperson said.
The IT guy probably won’t find much, except that the scammer is using a common trick when it comes to online impostor schemes.
Even though the emails appear to be from “Brian Borsuk,” a closer look at the sender’s Gmail address shows that he added an extra letter, “Borsuk.”
It’s all too easy for email recipients to overlook such subtle changes that make a fake email look legitimate. It also saves the scammer the trouble of hacking into a real email account.
Always check the web address or email address of a suspicious request or offer. Additional letters or symbols tell you that this is not the real deal.
The FBI says its Internet Crime Complaint Center received record number of fraud reports last year – almost 800,000.
“Scammers, unfortunately, don’t take vacations, and right now the most important thing on their list is stealing people’s hard-earned money,” the agency warned. recent announcement.
Consumers have been advised to stay away from unfamiliar websites promising big discounts on brand name products. He also called any request for gift cards a “major red flag of fraud.”
For its part, the Better Business Bureau says holiday scams are on the rise and that consumers should be extra careful with offers or requests made via email or social media.
“Use caution when encountering social media ads for discounted items, promotions, job opportunities and donation requests, as well as direct messages from strangers,” the organization said in a statement. warned.
“If you are asked to make a payment or donation by wire transfer, wire transfer, third party, prepaid debit card or gift card, take this as a wake-up call.”
Remember also that scammers are using “donation season” with bogus requests for charity, not to mention requests for bogus charity events.
Use credit cards only for online transactions. Your chances of being protected from fraud are much higher than if you use a debit card or most other forms of payment.
And while it’s nice to think that some of us could be contacted by a celebrity at any moment, that rarely happens in real life. So ignore any emails or social media contacts purporting to be from a movie or TV star.
Yes, including Keanu Reeveswho, according to scammers, devote every waking hour to chatting with fans on the Internet and begging them for money. Spoiler alert: he doesn’t.
Oh, and a fake doctor. Borsuk, you may want to choose your intended victims more carefully. Targeting the latimes.com email address is probably not the smartest move for someone who posts a lot about scams.
However, please send me a place where I can leave these gift cards. I fully promise not to immediately turn this over to the FBI. Believe me.