More commonly, victims don’t realize what’s happening until the thief has their money and it’s too late to recover funds.
But Peaches Rollins acted fast, and with the help of Green Dot — the makers of the MoneyPak card — and Bamboozled, a con was stopped in the act.
Rollins, who was featured in Bamboozled earlier this year when the monument company where she purchased a headstone for her mother went out of business, emailed Bamboozled in a panic last week.
“I’ve been scammed again,” she wrote.
Rollins saw an ad for a 2002 Nissan Altima on Craigslist for $1,890. She was interested, so she called the number.
No one answered, but moments later, someone named “Rosemary Hill” texted her back, and the two began to email.
“She said she wanted to sell the car because it belonged to her son, who was killed by a drunk driver on the way to his brother’s 16th birthday,” Rollins said. “She no longer wanted the car because of the memories.”
Hill explained the car was in an eBay Motors container somewhere in Missouri, and she wanted to do the transaction through eBay’s buyer protection program.
“I was comfortable with eBay so I said okay,” Rollins said.
The seller explained Rollins would receive an email directly from eBay with further instructions.
Soon after, the email arrived. It said Rollins should put the $1,890 on four MoneyPak cards, and then she should email the card numbers back to eBay.
(If you’re not familiar with MoneyPak, it’s something of a money transfer card, and as we reported earlier this month, the company’s maker — Green Dot — is discontinuing them because they’re frequently used by scammers to trick people out of money.)
After Rollins got the cards and emailed the numbers, she received another email from Rosemary Hill, which said she received payment confirmation from eBay. Rollins received a confirmation email, too.
That’s when things got hinky.
Hill emailed the following day, this time saying she and Rollins both needed to submit $1,500 for shipping insurance for the car.
“The insurance money $1,500 will be refunded to us is no problem!!!” the email said. “I want to say sorry for that, I didn’t knew too about that but I trust them and seems to be alright because we will get a refund immediately after you get the Nissan.”
Rollins loaded the $1,500 on three more MoneyPak cards, but she started to get suspicious and she didn’t sent the money immediately.
Hill wrote to Rollins several times, but Rollins didn’t answer while she thought it over.
“I’m disappointed on how the things are going, you told me today that you gonna complete the insurance payment and I didn’t hear a thing from you since then,” Hill wrote. “Can you please tell me what is going on?”
Rollins started to do a little research.
“The email from eBay said I won the bid, but I realized that for you to bid on something it has to be on the site,” she said. “I went on eBay and I couldn’t find the car, so I called the actual eBay.”
A real eBay rep told Rollins no such car was listed on the site and that it sounded like a scam. The rep recommended she contact police.
First, Rollins tried to contact MoneyPak to get a refund of the $1,500 she still had on the cards. Per the refund instructions on the back of the card, she went to http://www.MoneyPak.com.
Rollins said on the site, she clicked on several drop down menus, trying to find a phone number. Each web page only had a fill-in-the-blank form, so she kept clicking until finally, she said, she found a phone number.
“When I called the number, a gentleman said there was a high call volume with similar complaints about the eBay scam,” Rollins said. “He needed my name and address to mail me the money, and he told me to scratch off the backs of the cards and give him the numbers.”
She did, and then the rep asked Rollins to hold on.
Minutes passed. And more minutes passed.
The rep never came back.
Rollins thought the hucksters somehow spoofed a fake page connected to the real MoneyPak site.
“The scammers from eBay know people are going to call MoneyPak so I believe they made a web page where that number pops up and they tell people to give their info,” Rollins said. “I think they hacked it. They got my $1,500.”
She headed to the police station, and while she was waiting to give a police report — less than two hours after the $1,500 was taken from the cards — she contacted Bamboozled.
FAST ACTION, FAST RESULTS
After hearing Rollins’ story, we contacted MoneyPak spokesman and gave Rollins’ card numbers, asking the company if it could recover any of the funds.
Now normally, when scammers get MoneyPak card numbers from victims, they transfer funds from the MoneyPak to a completely different reloadable debit card. Once the money is moved, the scammers withdraw the funds at an ATM and disappear.
Something a little different happened here. And in well under an hour, MoneyPak had some good news.
The money from four MoneyPaks, worth $2,000, was already taken, but “it looks like $1,390 will be able to be saved,” he said. “The odd thing is that three MoneyPaks were issued refund checks, so it seems the scammers couldn’t load the money on their card and they requested refund checks.”
MoneyPak put a stop on the checks, so when they’re received by the scammers, they’ll be worthless.
MoneyPak then sent a refund check to Rollins.
Case closed. Sort of.
MORE MYSTERY REMAINS
Rollins understands the mistakes she made by giving the first $1,890 to the crooks, but she’s still perplexed about the phone number she found on what she thought was the authentic MoneyPak site when the second $1,500 was swiped.
The legitimate MoneyPak site doesn’t offer a customer service number on the help pages, but only a fill-in-the-blanks message system.
A quick web search for that phone number led us to a site that tries to look a lot like MoneyPak, but actually has nothing to do with the company.
The site, MoneyPak-support.com, certainly leads the reader to think it represents the company.
It promises “24/7 Support for MoneyPak” and gives a phone number.
But, of course, the phone number has nothing to do with the real MoneyPak.
And the small print says the site is run by WebBizXperts.com, which offers a disclaimer: “Third party trademarks, logos, brand names, products and services are used as references for informational purposes only. In no way we sponsor their product or services…”
Public records show the fake MoneyPak site and the WebBizXpertz.com site were registered using a private domain registrar, so only law enforcement could compel the company to share the individual or group behind the site.
We contacted the Essex County prosecutor’s office with another investigative possibility. If MoneyPak was supposed to send refund checks to the scammers in the mail, the company has a name and an address of what could be the scammer.
It is reviewing the matter, the prosecutor’s office said, but it wouldn’t say any more.
Rollins says she hopes the authorities and MoneyPak try to chase down the fraudsters.
“It’s not just me,” she said. “They must be doing this to a lot of people.”
ANATOMY OF A SCAM
Crooks use MoneyPak cards to steal cash from consumers in a variety of ways.
They call would-be victims and impersonate IRS agents, saying the person owes taxes and penalties and unless they pay immediately and over the phone with MoneyPak cards, warrants will be issued for their arrest.
They say they’re from PSE&G or JCP&L or another utility, and tell a homeowner or businessperson their power will be shut unless they pay an overdue amount via MoneyPak cards.
And then there’s the eBay scam, which plays out just like Rollins’ experience.
eBay Motors, aware of the scams, said it has partnered with the FBI to alert consumers, and it offers scam warnings on its web site.
It recommended customers examine a seller’s feedback on the marketplace site and read his or her ratings and comments before making any purchase.
And, it says to only communicate with sellers through the “My eBay” message center.
“While you can’t always trust messages that come through your personal email, ALL messages coming through My eBay are verified as legitimate,” eBay said, noting you should start and finish all transactions only on the eBayMotors site.
“Beware of ads on other sites that claim to use eBay Motors to complete the transaction,” eBay said. “Cybercriminals exploit the world’s most trusted brands by creating fake websites in order to create a sense of trust in their victims and gain valuable information.”
As for payments, eBay Motors said to never send payments though wire services of any kind, and if you plan to pay in cash, make sure to do so in person so you can get a receipt or bill of sale.
Have you been Bamboozled? Contact Karin Price Mueller at Bamboozled@NJAdvanceMedia.com.