LACKAWANNA, N.Y. (WIVB) – The phone rang and Paul Gabriel thought his ship had finally come in, the caller telling Gabriel the Federal Reserve Bank of New York had an $8,200 grant for him, “to help stimulate the economy, pay your bills, use it for whatever you want to use it for.”
But first the Lackawanna retiree would have to pay a $180 deposit using an iTunes gift card, which he bought at a nearby drugstore, and reported the claim code on the back of the card to the “federal reserve guy”.
The caller then asked for Paul’s checking account and routing numbers, so the money could be direct deposited into his account. But fortunately for Paul, there was a hitch–his bank account was transferring from First Niagara to KeyBank.
“That was a lifesaver right there–the changeover–because I couldn’t even get my account balance when I called First Niagara to get my account balance,” and by the time the banks straightened out Paul’s account, he withdrew all but $10 so the scammers could not get to it.
A caller or telemarketer asking you to buy a gift card, and forwarding the credit, should be the first clue a scam is underway, according to Melanie McGovern, spokesperson for the Upstate New York Better Business Bureau.
“One of the signs of a scam is when they ask for things other than your credit card information.”
McGovern said the use of gift cards to promote scams has become so rampant, many of the gift card issuers are posting warnings, “iTunes has a disclaimer on their website about these scams. So any time somebody asks for an iTunes gift card, it is definitely a very big red flag that it is a scam.”
Paul Gabriel is grateful that if not for the big bank merger, which many First Niagara customers found to be a pain, he might have lost a lot more than $180, “It has been a blessing, it has been a real blessing, because I would be out of a lot of money.”
The Federal Reserve Bank of New York also has a disclaimer on its website, confirming they do not operate any kind of a grant program. Consumer advocates also remind the public constantly, no government agency will call you on the phone, offering you money.
To be sure, the government does have the money for grants, millions of dollars, but you have to apply for it, which requires a lot of paperwork, a lot of time, and a special skill for grant writing.