GRESHAM, Ore. — A Gresham woman is on the hook for over $9,000 after falling victim to the latest technology scam. Experts say it's a new twist on a familiar con job.
We’ve heard of the gift card scam, where scammers pose as IRS agents coming after a tax bill or law enforcement claiming you missed jury duty, and convince victims to buy Green Dot credit cards or iTunes cards to make the problems go away.
Now, scammers are taking over victims’ computers and telling them their personal information is at risk. They convince victims that they need to buy Google Play cards to secure their personal information. The scammers also claim to use their own money to make deposits into the victims’ PayPal or bank accounts, so victims will have the money needed to buy more Google Play cards and fix their problems. Experts say it’s called the "tech impostor scam."
It happened to Joy Brookhouse while she was shopping online for a new desk.
“Up pops this one on Google, that's a limited fire sale,” she said.
The pop-up featured a desk worth several hundred dollars, offered at a mere $12.95. So, Joy clicked on a link and bought it. But Joy said it never arrived.
“I just went on with life, figuring I lost $12.95," she said.
But soon after, the scammers starting calling Joy over and over again, posing as security officials from Google.
“They told me that they had called to let me know that I had a Level-3 security breach,” Joy said.
The impostors also told her that when she clicked on the fire-sale desk pop-up ad, she compromised all of her personal information, PayPal and bank account information and now they had taken control of her computer to "patch" the security breach.
“On the top (of Google home page) I have all my favorites. One is Onpoint (credit union) and one is PayPal. So, when you click on it, it automatically signs in. So, when they took control of my computer, they saw what I saw,” Joy said.
To fix all the security breaches, the scammers told Joy she needed to buy $500 "Google Play" cards and then call them with the serial numbers.
“So, I reluctantly went out and I got those cards, and I gave them the numbers," Joy said.
But then, the scammers took it a step further. When Joy's money was gone, the scammers told her they would deposit their money into her PayPal account and remotely transfer it into her bank account so she could buy more Google Play cards and fix her security breaches. After she bought them, those deposits were rescinded.
“Every $1,500 they sent me, and they said that was the maximum they could send, so I would go out and I would buy three $500 Google Play cards.”
Eventually all the evidence of the deposits, transfers, purchases and Google Play cards disappeared from Joy's computer.
“Substituting PayPal or Venmo or some form of a digital wallet is definitely becoming more common,” said Danielle Kane, marketplace manager for the Better Business Bureau.
Kane said gift card scams are not new, but "tech impostors" are. And they’re now taking over PayPal accounts to steal your money.
The Better Business Bureau has received more than 7,000 complaints in the past two years. Kane said for scammers, Google Play cards are as good as cash.
“It is not refundable as a consumer, so it’s really a safe way for the scammer to make sure they get your money. Because a Google Play card can be used in so many different ways and forms. It's like taking cash out of your wallet,” said Kane.
Joy is in her 70s and on Social Security. You might think seniors are the most vulnerable to these scams, but that's not the case. Microsoft's latest research indicates young people, especially millennials, are most likely to lose money in a tech scam. They say younger technology users tend to engage in riskier online behavior and because they're more familiar with technology, they get taken by their overconfidence.
Joy has closed her bank account, changed her account information and got a new computer. But because of those bogus deposits from the scammers, she says she's on the hook for $9,080. She is now working with her bank and PayPal to try and straighten things out.
"I had no idea that they could be this elaborate," she said.