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Betty Lin-Fisher: No, you did not win a free gift card

By Betty Lin-Fisher
Beacon Journal consumer columnist

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’Tis the season for holiday gift giving and receiving.

But you can’t take a holiday from being wary of scams.

The Akron Police Department and Summit County Prosecutor’s Office are warning that a text appearing to come from Target about winning a $1,000 gift card is phony.

Prosecutor Sherri Bevan Walsh put out an email last week about it, and the Akron police posted a notice about the scam on the department’s Facebook page.

“For a split second, I felt excited, thinking that a $1,000 gift card several weeks before Christmas would be great news! However, since I had not entered any contests to win a Target gift card, I did a quick Google search and learned this was a scam,” Bevan Walsh wrote.

She called the number and a recording told her the voice-mail box for “Ripping People Off” was full.

“While my experience gave me a good laugh, not everyone is fortunate. If you follow the instructions in the text to claim your gift card, iPad or other alleged prize, you could end up agreeing to expensive, unwanted services or even giving a scammer your personal information,” she wrote.

In an interview, Bevan Walsh said she’s not sure why the voice-mail message said “Ripping People Off,” but it was disconnected by the next day.

“Unfortunately, when a holiday season like this is approaching, there’s just a lot more scams out there,” she said. “A lot of people, even if they think it’s a scam, go to the website and then you’re at risk for being pressured into doing something or getting a link to put out personal information.”

That text message isn’t the only one. Messages appearing to come from Target or Best Buy or a “fill in the blank retailer” saying you have won a $1,000 gift card, or iPad, or “fill in the blank prize,” are all scams.

On a related topic, I have had several inquiries from readers and friends about letters in the mail saying they’ve won an iPad or a chance at an iPad. When I Googled the name and iPad, I found many references to a high-pressure sales pitch for some travel service in order to “qualify” for your free iPad. Chances are, you’ll get the high-pressure pitch, then you will be told of numerous steps that must be taken and fine print that limits your chances of your “free” prize. It’s just not worth it.

I don’t even respond to them, because I don’t want to confirm for the scammers that their blanket guess at phone numbers reached a real person’s phone. (I also seem to get a lot of texts.)

The BBB says the gift card text message scam “is back with a vengeance this holiday shopping season. Shoppers across the country are reporting receiving spam text messages, called ‘‘smishing,’’ saying they won a pricey gift card.”

The scam works like this: The text says you’ve won a prize and you have to go to the website and enter a PIN, and the card is yours. The website looks authentic. Once you enter the PIN and your email address, you’re taken to a form to fill out your name, cellphone number, mailing address and unrelated personal questions. When you reach the page to claim your gift card, you get directed to a site to apply for a credit card.

Christy Page, president of the Akron Better Business Bureau, said scams such as this can be perpetrated via land-line phone, mail, email and cellphones.

“With the rise of smartphones, it’s just easy to hit the masses with a text,” she said. “We’re getting a lot of calls about it [at the BBB] all the time.”

Here is advice from the BBB and a website called Pcmag.com:

• Ignore instructions to text “STOP” or “NO” to prevent future texts. This is a common ploy by scammers to confirm they have a real, active phone number.

• Forward the texts to 7726 (SPAM on most keypads). This will alert your cellphone carrier to start an investigation.

• If you think the text message is real, be sure it’s directing the receiver to a web address such as Bestbuy.com or Target.com, not www.bestbuy.otherwebsite.com .

• Don’t respond to texts from unknown senders.

• Be aware that text apps often incur additional fees. Signing up for a joke-of-the-day or daily horoscope can include hidden fees.

• Carefully review your phone bill every month. Make sure you’re not being charged for extra services, such as “premium content” or “direct bill charge.” These could be signs of a scam.

• Discuss cellphone safety with your family. Make sure everyone on your cellphone plan is familiar with text scams and how to avoid them.

Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or blinfisher@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/blinfisher and see all her stories at www.ohio.com/betty.



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