Bomb Threats New Scam in Prepaid & Gift Card Fraud

Like two peas in a pod, the holiday season rings in an increase in gift card fraud. Gift cards are being purchased in stores and online in record numbers and criminals see this as a prime time for skimming and online card fraud. Consumers loaded $112.3 billion onto gift cards in 2012 alone, according to Mercator Advisory Group, representing a lucrative windfall not only for retailers but also for thieves. A very serious gift card scam that developed this year involves phoning in bomb threats in an attempt to force retailers to hand over prepaid cards’ identifying information. In September, 10 retailers in Savannah, Ga., received warnings that the stores would be blown up if a store manager didn't load $500 onto 10 Green Dot MoneyPak reloadable prepaid debit cards, and then read the card numbers over the phone. “No manager complied with the demands, and no explosive devices were found,” the FBI’s Atlanta Division said in a press statement. However, the scam is being replicated throughout the country. “Subsequent investigation has determined that these calls mirrored a number of similar telephonic threats made to various drug stores and retail outlets nationwide. One such call placed to a discount department store in Snellville, Georgia, was identified as an overseas Voiceover IP (VoIP) telephone number,” the FBI stated. The Green Dot MoneyPak cards, available at most retail outlets throughout the U.S., are particularly vulnerable because they are just as untraceable as wire transfers, according to the FBI. “These cards are not associated with any bank, meaning that the money is in the card,” the FBI stated. A less threatening – but still potentially very costly – method that some criminals are using is talking to cashiers directly to get the information they need. “Scammers telephone a store, reach a clerk and identify themselves as representatives for the company's central office. They'll ask the clerk to activate a card, load it with value, and then give the thieves the identifying numbers so they can check that it was activated properly,” Fox Business reported. "They're essentially creating money out of thin air," Ben Jackson, a senior analyst at Mercator Advisory Group, told Fox Business. One of the traditional but effective methods that criminals are using to carry out card fraud is to lift identifying information from the gift cards’ magnetic stripes using a scanner or write down identifying information from the cards – both in-store. “The crook then goes home and repeatedly checks online to see when the card is activated (usually this is done when the cashier rings up the purchase of the card). Once activated, the thief spends the card balance online,” Fox Business reported. Technology is allowing scammers to streamline part of the process, Jackson told Fox Business. “Rather than having to hit ‘refresh’ on their computers until they see that a card has been loaded with value, thieves now use computer software that automatically checks the value of a card multiple times in a short span,” Fox Business reported. However, card processors have also upped their technological game, and red flagged those transactions for fraud. Another effective gift card fraud technique is creating a duplicate label of a UPC barcode, and placing the first card label over the second card UPC bar code. In some cases, associates swap cards at the register, according to the National Retail Federation (NRF). And still, one of the most popular gift card fraud heists is buying gift cards with stolen credit cards. That way, thieves can extract money from credit cards before the cardholder notices the card is missing and cancels it. Plus, they have an untraceable method of spending money at stores or online with the gift cards. "Gift cards are an anonymous account to put money on, and anything anonymous in the world of fraud is desirable. It's seen as a way to launder money,” Martha Weaver, the gift card product marketing manager at Travel Tags, which manufactures 500 million gift cards a year, told Fox Business.