'The unfortunate gift': Edmontonians lose almost $685,000 this year to gift card scam

City police are warning Edmontonians to be wary of internet scammers using gift cards, computer viruses, fake banking hacks and false RCMP investigations to defraud their victims.

Residents warned to be wary of these 'elaborate and believable' schemes

Scammers are creating elaborate stories to dupe their victims into buying gift cards for the fraudsters with their own money. (Kacper Pempel/Reuters)

City police are warning Edmontonians to be wary of scammers using a convoluted combination of gift cards, computer viruses, fake banking hacks and false RCMP investigations to defraud their victims.

Between Jan. 1 and July 15, Edmonton police received 136 reports of gift card-related internet scams with an overall loss of $683,000.

Victims of the elaborate schemes are repeatedly tricked into buying gift cards for the internet fraudsters with their own cash or credit. 

"Through the use of virus computer software, scammers are gaining access to personal computers and banking information after alarming victims that their credit card has been compromised," reads a news release from Edmonton police.

The scammers are using "advanced methods" to appear legitimate and an increasing number of people are falling prey to the scams, investigators warned. 

Police described the scams as "the unfortunate gift that just keeps giving." 

"Scammers do this for a living," said Edmonton detective Linda Herczeg, "This is their livelihood, so they spend all of their time building an elaborate and believable scheme. 

"They use a real bank's identity, including an employee number, to legitimize their story. Anyone can fall victim to these scams."

The scams follow the same complex script, police said. 

You will receive a phone call claiming that your online bank accounts have been hacked. 

The scammer will claim to be a bank employee and ask to run a software program on your computer.

The software program, however, is actually a virus designed to provide the scammer full access to your computer and confidential banking information, police said. 

Then two fraudulent charges will appear on your credit card. Typically, the first charge is for EBay and the second charge is for Google Play cards. 

The "bank employee" puts you on hold, telling you they will contact Google to get that transaction cancelled. When they return, you're told a confusing tale of two different refund amounts and advised that the only way to get a full refund is to buy Google Play gift cards and then get the refund.

After purchasing the gift cards at a designated location, the scammer tells you to scratch the codes on the card and send a photo to them, police said.

 "The scammer will then ask you to remain quiet about the situation, as they are currently doing a covert operation with the RCMP," police said. 

"The scammer will deposit money into your account so you may continue to make purchases for him to assist in the investigation, as well as a small tip for your assistance."

At a later time, you will be asked to transfer money from your account to a designated RCMP officer through a third-party banking account. The scammer may also warn you that someone, who claimed to be your relative, tried to get a loan under your name.

To prevent the loan fraud, the scammer may then transfer your funds to someone in India using a 'Money in Minute' service. Afterward, you'll be asked again to purchase gift cards at a designated location.

"Following a similar protocol, the scammer will deposit more money into your account to purchase the gift cards — which is actually being pulled from your own accounts or line of credit. 

"Once again, you'll be asked to scratch the codes and send a photo of the codes to the scammer. The process will continue until the scammer is no longer able to convince you to send money or purchase gifts cards."