The Ripoff Alert is a new series appearing once each week on Fridays. It alerts you to the latest scams and ripoffs trying to get between you and your money, and gives you information you need to stay safe. This is #18 in the series.
In a new twist to an old scam, criminals are contacting you and claiming you’ve won a flat screen TV, a car or a lottery. They may have access to secret government grants. To claim your prize, you have to go out and buy a prepaid card called Green Dot MoneyPak and load $500 or $1,000 onto it. You buy these cards at Walmart, drug stores or 7-eleven convenience stores.
You’re then instructed to hand over the scratch-off information from the card. They supposedly need proof you’ll be able to pay the shipping costs and taxes on your “winnings”. The second they have your number, they have access to every last cent on your card and will drain it pronto.
In the past criminals could send out fake checks, asking you to deposit them and wire a portion back. But this method has been around so long most people are aware that if they receive a check for too much money they’re being scammed.
Know that anybody asking you to buy a MoneyPak card is trying to rip you off. This is just another case where they’re using a legitimate payment method for illegitimate purposes.
None of this is Green Dot’s fault. They post a warning on the front page of their website:
Use your MoneyPak number only with businesses on our approved list. If anyone else asks for your MoneyPak number or information from your receipt, it’s probably a scam. Don’t give your MoneyPak number to pay for something you buy through the classifieds or to collect a prize or sweepstakes. Do not give away your receipt information to another party either. If you give your MoneyPak number or information about the purchase transaction to a criminal, Green Dot is not responsible to pay you back. Your MoneyPak is not a bank account. The funds are not insured against loss.
I know times are tough. You might be desperate for cash. When someone comes along offering free money, you may think you’ve found your golden ticket. But don’t suspend your good judgement – they are taking advantage of your situation and just trying to rip you off.
Be cautious when anybody contacts you out of the blue claiming you’ve won something. Key rule: If you never entered a drawing you’re not going to win a prize.