Consumer Alert

Payment by preloaded card screams 'Scam!'


Despite regular warnings about requests to wire money as payment, there's always someone who falls for that time-honored method of losing money to a scam. Even companies in the money transfer business, such as Western Union and MoneyGram, actively warn consumers that requests to wire money are a huge red flag.

Whether the ruse involves booking a rental property, getting a pedigree puppy, or buying a car on the cheap from a soon to be deployed soldier, you can be assured that when you're told to wire money that's like putting the exclamation point on the word "Scam!"

So, to change things up and get to those who are tuned into the wiring-money red flag, scams are increasingly utilizing another method of stealing your money. The National Consumers League says it is seeing an increase on its complaint center of thieves asking for reloadable prepaid cards.

For victims, the result of wiring money or using the cards is the same. It's like handing someone cash the money is gone. As the Consumers League notes, such products as Green Dot MoneyPaks or Vanilla Reloads are also widely available. And with largely untraceable transactions, they work quite well for thieves.

Crooks will typically ask that you load the cash onto your card and then send them the card number and PIN. That allows them to put the money onto their own cards and then go to an ATM to draw cash or spend it at a store.

Recently there has also been an uptick in scams involving demands for payment from either utilities or the government. Hint: Neither will demand Green Dot MoneyPaks or Vanilla Reloads.

Still other victims will get scammed with the misguided notion that they've won something and simply have to use one of the cards to pay a fee or tax first, and then the winnings will be loaded onto their card. Hint: No sweepstakes, lottery, or other prize-granting authority will demand a winner obtain a prepaid card to receive their bounty. Both Green Dot and Vanilla warn about these and other scams.

For those who have learned the lesson about not wiring money, please extend that to prepaid cards. So, when you're about to buy something off an online classified ad, think you've won a prize, or are being pressed to pay a bill, when you are told to use a prepaid card, put that exclamation point after "Scam!" and scram.

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