For Michael Alan Winicour, it is difficult to relive the details of what happened to him last summer. It is not pleasant for him to admit that he was the victim of a scam, in which he lost thousands of dollars.
“They just make you think I’m saving myself by doing this,” Winicour said, referring to the scammers.
It’s a story that even his own son, Corey Blake Winicour, struggled to understand.
“I was like, ‘What are you talking about? Why? What did you do? How does that make sense?'” Winicour’s son said.
On June 5, 2021, Winicour, 76, received an email, which seemed to come from Apple. The email, with the subject “Your Apple iTunes Subscription”, appeared to be a statement with an order confirmation. Believing there was a problem, Winicour called the number listed in the email. He now realizes that making that phone call was a big mistake.
“They said they found bills that had been debited from my Apple account and in order to eliminate that problem, go get some gift cards at Target…you’ll read us the numbers and we’ll get the money back and put it in your Apple account,” Winicour said.
So he did.
Within minutes, Winicour drove to the nearest Target store in Lake Bluff, a northwest suburb of Chicago. Within two and a half hours, he spent over $7,000 on Target gift cards.
Winicour said the scammers stayed on the phone with him the entire time. Receipts provided to NBC 5 show there were 10 visits to the same location and five to the same register. Most visits were spaced 20 to 30 minutes apart.
“They would drive him back to the parking lot where they would convince him to read the numbers on the gift cards…again thinking it was in his best interest, then they would send him back to buy more,” his son said. , Corey. Blake Winicour.
After everything was settled and done, Winicour lost a total of $8,497.48.
“I’m not helpless, but a lot of people are and that’s what really really hurts and it’s sad. It’s got to end,” Winicour said.
“It’s very difficult from the outside to understand how this happened to someone and yet it happens to tens of hundreds of thousands of people,” Corey Blake Winicour said.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, in the first nine months of 2021 alone, nearly 40,000 people reported $148 million stolen using gift cards. But Steve Bernas of the Chicago Better Business Bureau says these cases are underreported.
“Unfortunately, the scammers are getting better every day,” Bernas said. “There are not enough government police to protect consumers…this is a global problem, not just an American problem or a Chicago problem.”
So what can you do to avoid falling victim to this type of scam?
According to Bernas, the only way to put scammers out of business is not to give them your business in the first place. Also, if someone tells you to buy gift cards and reread the numbers, don’t believe them. It’s a scam.
For Winicour, it was a difficult lesson, but also an eye-opener. He has since filed a lawsuit against Target Corporation, hoping for a change.
“Stores have to commit to trying to slow it down or stop it…they have the capability,” Winicour said.
In response to our story, a Target spokeswoman sent NBC 5 the following statement:
“Unfortunately, gift card scams are a persistent problem in the retail industry. Target takes these crimes very seriously and we use a comprehensive, multi-layered approach to mitigating fraud that includes technology, employee training team members and working with law enforcement.We also work with a number of external partners like the National Cyber Forensics Training Alliance, which brings together more than 70 retailers to track, prevent and address these types We’ve increased in-store signage to warn our customers of common gift card scams, and we’ve increased training for team members so they can keep an eye out for potentially distressed customers buying gift cards and intervene when necessary. We also continue to implement new technologies to prevent fraudsters from abusing the gift cards. »
The Chicago Better Business Bureau offers the following tips:
- Government agencies requesting payment. No government agency ever asks for money through gift cards.
- Statements that the purchase of gift cards is a safe way to make payment. Providing gift card numbers is like sending money, and the money is rarely recoverable. Gift card payment requests are a big red flag for a scam.
- Keep the receipt when purchasing a gift card. Also keep the physical card. These can help prove that the card has been paid for and activated if problems arise later.
- Carefully inspect the card before purchasing to ensure it has not been tampered with. Some scammers open the card to get the numbers on the back so they can withdraw the money when the card is activated later.
If you are the victim of a gift card scam, it is recommended that you file a complaint with your local BBB and the FTC.