Smart About Money: If only this scam victim had refused to buy gift cards!

Nick Maffeo A fellow banker recently told me about a gentleman who stopped by his local bank to tell them he’d just realized that a person he thought he was doing business with was actually a scammer.

As it so happens, the man was in shock. He was angry at the scammer and very upset with himself. He could not believe he had fallen for a scam. Plus he had been taken for nearly $12,000.

An active real estate developer (with no cognitive impairment), this man was accustomed to handling large sums of money. He was also accustomed to protecting himself when doing deals with people he didn’t know well.

But when he was contacted by a person who seemed to be acquainted with his business and they sounded convincing, the familiarity lowered his usual caution when dealing with strangers. (It turns out the scammers likely got their information from publicly-available sources. They’d basically targeted him.)

Posing as a customer, this stranger/scammer started sending him checks for “earnest money.” From there, it was the classic scam. Pointing out that they had mistakenly “overpaid,” they asked him to refund them with gift cards.

Gift cards – it’s the gift cards again!

No legitimate business or business contact will ever ask you to pay or re-pay them in gift cards. Not ever. Never. Period.

As an aside, no government agency or police department will ever ask you to pay or re-pay them in gift cards either. Not ever. Never. Period.

Basically only a scammer will ask you to pay them in gift cards. Period.

If you think it couldn’t happen to you, that’s what this man thought too. But scammers are practiced liars who specialize in getting their victims to act quickly and against their own best interests. Scammers also often make veiled or overt threats and insist on secrecy.

Here’s the bottom line – the minute someone directs you to buy gift cards and give them the gift card numbers, you need to find a way to stop and recognize immediately that you are being scammed. Especially if the person asking is someone you don’t know – a stranger who has somehow connected with you by phone, text or online.

Despite the best efforts of his bank and several strong warnings, the victim insisted on withdrawing his money. They couldn’t stop him. What finally woke him up? Based on company policy apparently, a pharmacy clerk refused to sell him any more gift cards.

This man could not have stopped those scammers from targeting him.

But he could have stopped the scam dead in its tracks if he refused to buy gift cards.

So can you. There’s no way to predict what scams you might encounter – there are so many out there. But you can prepare now to protect yourself, your family, friends, neighbors and colleagues by having serious talks about the importance of never-ever-ever buying gift cards at the direction of strangers. Never. Period.
(That goes for wire transfers, cashier’s/certified checks and Bitcoin too.)

Even with red “Caution!” flags flying in so many places, people of all ages still fall for the “gift card scam” all the time. It’s unfortunately so common.

If you find yourself dealing with someone who may be a scammer, break the contact and bring in someone else who can help you decipher the message/s you’re getting. The Canton Police are well aware of the scams out there and very happy to help local people avoid being scammed. Their 24/7 phone number is 781-828-1212.

Nick Maffeo is the President & CEO of Canton Co-operative Bank – right next to the Post Office – in Canton. Have a question? Email to

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