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Consumer Alert

Scammers move on to prepaid cards

Despite regular warnings about requests to wire money as payment, there’s always someone who falls for that time-honored 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: 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, scammers are increasingly utilizing another method of stealing your money.

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The National Consumers League says it is seeing an increase on its Fraud.org 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 league notes, products such as Green Dot MoneyPaks or Vanilla Reloads are also widely available. And with largely untraceable transactions, they work 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.

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

Still other victims will get scammed with the misguided notion that they have won something and simply have to use one of the cards to pay a fee or tax first.

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But no prize-granting authority will demand winners obtain a prepaid card to receive their bounty.

For those who have learned the lesson about not wiring money, please extend that to prepaid cards. When you are told to use a prepaid card, put that exclamation point after “scam” and scram.


Mitch Lipka has been helping consumers out of jams for the past two decades. He lives in Worcester and also writes the Consumer Alert blog on Boston.com. Mitch can be reached at consumernews@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @mitchlipka.