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Beware the money card scam

Updated October 23, 2013

One of the frequently committed felony crimes in Cerritos is the common telephone scam and the seemingly endless variations of it. The Cerritos Sheriff's Station and many other law enforcement agencies continue to warn residents about the relentless attempts of telephone scammers. These criminals threaten people with immediate arrest or other dire consequences for failing to pay the correct amount of taxes, take care of an outstanding arrest warrant or pay a past-due electric bill. Victims rush to the store, buy a cash card and call the criminal back with the card number.

It is difficult to know how widespread this crime is in Cerritos because many victims are possibly embarrassed and don't report the crime. Educating potential victims is the best defense. A recent article in the "Park La Brea News" contains some useful information worth sharing this month.

According to the article, police are warning residents to beware a common scam in which perpetrators request that victims use a pre-paid money card to pay a bill. Outstanding arrest warrants and unpaid electric bills are sometimes used as examples of the bills that must be paid.

The crimes are typically committed over the telephone and the suspects claim they represent bill collectors for utility companies or the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), or are police officers investigating unpaid parking or traffic citations. The suspects request that the victim purchase a pre-paid, reloadable debit card (Green Dot/Money Pak, Visa, MasterCard, Vanilla Card, etc.) for the specific amount of the bill and call back with the PIN/account number of the card. Sometimes it takes two or more cards due to limits on the amount you can put on a single card. The cards can be purchased at CVS, Rite-Aid and other convenience stores.

The threat made is that if the victim does not do as instructed, a warrant will be issued and the police will come immediately and make an arrest, or utilities will be shut off instantly. The elderly or people who may not be accustomed to how government agencies operate are particularly susceptible to this scam.

In the most recent money card scam in Cerritos, the victim was told that if she didn't pay $4,000 in back taxes the IRS would take her home and her children from her. She quickly purchased a Money Pak card, called the "agent" back with the PIN number and immediately lost her money. Only after she relayed the story to her husband did she realize she had been scammed.

Authorities warn that once a suspect has a PIN, they can transfer funds from a card to another credit card, which is untraceable. The victim has no recourse once the money has been transferred. Potential victims are warned to be suspicious of callers who demand immediate payment for any reason, and to never give out personal or financial information to anyone who emails or calls unsolicited.

Authorities also warn people to never wire money or provide debit or credit card numbers or Green Dot/Money Pak numbers to anyone they do not know. Utility companies and government agencies, including the IRS, will never contact people demanding immediate payment by pre-paid reloadable debit cards. Verify legitimate requests from the IRS by calling (800) 829-1040.

Cerritos residents are encouraged to contact the Cerritos Sheriff's Station at (562) 860-0044 if they suspect they have been targeted by a scammer.


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